Visa U.S.A.'s transaction totals from 1999 were both rosy and staggering: $721.1 billion in consumer and business purchases were charged on its cards, up 18% from the $611 billion in 1998.
Visa plans to announce its yearend results today, coupled with a prediction that spending on Visa cards will surpass $1 trillion in the United States within two years. The 18% growth last year is the company's largest year-to-year leap yet. Visa chalked up the dramatic results to the healthy economy and the growing popularity of credit and debit cards.
"I don't see any black clouds on the horizon," Carl F. Pascarella, president and chief executive officer, said in a telephone interview Friday. "I see that we're going to have to manage change."
Visa says last year's growth was fueled by the Visa check card, which now accounts for more than one-quarter of Visa's total dollar volume. The $183.8 billion spent on these debit cards last year was 36% higher than the 1998 total.
Visa's efforts to increase its presence in what it calls "emerging markets" also seems to be bearing fruit. For instance, Visa volume at movie theaters rose 107% in 1999, to $195 million. Volume at fast-food restaurants rose 66%, to $616 million.
Visa also made progress in its long-standing effort to get consumers to pay recurring bills with cards. For example, the company said card use for cable television bills has doubled since 1994, with $1 billion of cable charges transacted on its cards last year.
"The more we can electronify cash and checks at the point of transaction, the more impact we're going to have on bank profitability," Mr. Pascarella said. "I'm very, very pleased with the growth."
Visa said it processed 40 billion transactions in 1999, the equivalent of 1,268 transactions per second. The busiest day of the year was Dec. 24, when transactions topped 3,500 per second.
Commercial cards and Internet payments are areas where many card issuers are looking for growth, and Visa said both sectors were busy last year. The commercial card has "exceeded our expectations across the board," Mr. Pascarella said. Last year's volume - $45 billion - was up 42% from 1998. Moreover, the number of Visa commercial cards in circulation - 9.2 million - was up 23% from yearend 1998.
"We want to make sure that consumers understand the obligations of credit and use it prudently, but more and more of our volume is being generated on the debit and commercial side, which isn't necessarily credit-centric," Mr. Pascarella said.
Visa's Internet unit, e-Visa, estimates that 2% of Visa's 1999 volume, or $13 billion, came from Internet transactions. Electronic commerce on the Internet will represent 10% of Visa's volume by 2003, e-Visa predicts.
Visa also reports that its fraud rate hit an all-time low of .06%, or six cents of every $100 in transactions. Visa spent more than $20 million last year on fraud-prevention initiatives, Mr. Pascarella said.
"Fraud on the Internet we're not experiencing to be any higher than fraud in the physical world," he said. "The things we've put in place - like our neural networks, address verification service - all these things that are quite technical have a synergistic effect."