Consumer-driven usage controls are a card firm's version of Bo Jackson - a multi-sport player that can battle fraud, boost loyalty and enable sound personal debt management.

In this game, Orbiscom is MasterCard's first round draft pick. MasterCard's recent acquisition appears routine, a $100 million deal with a firm that was already a development partner. But the purchase portends a vastly broadened impact of inControl - a jointly developed platform including UDLAPs (user-defined limits and/or prohibitions), alerts, routing numbers and other card-control enablers.

"We're trying to make the systems work differently at an individual account level," says Bob Reany, group head of global network product management and marketing in MasterCard's Global Technology and Operations division. "If a consumer would want a card to work at certain places, not others, we would want them to be able to have that kind of control and personalization."

Already used for B2B card transactions, extending these controls to consumers would allow consumer-driven spend tracking and management, controlled spending by minors, mitigated fraud fears and other benefits.

MasterCard sees the technology as a way for its issuers to stand out in a market that was, until recently, awash in credit offers. "This is really going to enable our issuers to develop more robust card programs so they can grow their existing programs," says Steve Abrams, a MasterCard group executive. "Now they can offer customized solutions, making them much more competitive in the marketplace."

James Van Dyke, president of Javelin Strategy & Research, says people are increasingly pushing for consumer controls over cards. "It's about user defined limits and prohibitions, where you can set limits on a card or turn it off altogether in certain situations," he says.

Van Dyke says if MasterCard turns all of Orbiscom's capabilities into platform offerings that end up in MasterCard consumer and small business credit, debit and stored value cards, the acquisition becomes a "significant" cost saver and transaction enhancer.

RBS, which is introducing inControl at two multinational corporate customers, offers these clients the ability to control card spending before the fact. By creating greater institutional controls over the use of corporate cards, RBS hopes to increase wallet share since these corporations will be more comfortable allowing a wider range of employees to use corporate-issued credit cards.

"We now have an ability to put in an almost infinite number of controls," says Raghay Prasad, head of commercial cards for RBS in London. "We can put controls on spending right down to the level of the transaction. We can ensure that purchase controls can be as tight or loose as a company wants."

These limits can be financial, a specific timeframe, merchant based, or limits based specific items. RBS says the there's so much control available, a client can literally place parameters on a card that dictates that it can only be spent at a specific retailer to purchase an item such as staplers between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on a specific day.

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