Three years through a five-year plan to "mainstream debit," Visa U.S.A. is moving into related specialty products such as prepaid and payroll cards.
"There are a lot of applications coming down the road ... that use the debit infrastructure as the basis to expand on," said Jeffery M. Kann, executive vice president of consumer products.
The Visa check card is spectacularly popular, the fastest-growing product in the card association's history, Mr. Kann said in an interview.
The push for off-line debit - card payments that are cleared the same way as credit cards, with a couple of days' delay in the posting to a checking account - began in 1996. Since then, the Visa check card base has grown by more than 40% a year.
Today there are 83 million cardholders, and Visa has a whopping 80% market share against MasterCard.
"In the last quarter alone, there have been about five million new cards issued," Mr. Kann said.
Visa wants to see debit account for 10% of all consumer payments by the end of 2001.
Debit payments would take the form of off-line cards and on-line transactions handled through automated teller networks such as NYCE Corp. and Star Systems Inc. In 1997, 3% of goods and services were purchased using some form of debit, according to The Nilson Report of Oxnard, Calif.
"Our goal is to make sure that as many people as possible use Visa products, but the category and the industry as a whole can benefit as well," Mr. Kann said.
Visa recently commissioned a Gallup survey of 1,252 debit cardholders who were asked to choose technologies that have made their lives easier. Debit cards, mentioned by 90%, were ahead of direct deposit at 77%, mobile phones 67%, e-mail 66%, and the Internet 63%.
"This statistic more than any other shows the power of debit cards - a product that has quietly changed our everyday lives," Mr. Kann said.
This fall the association began testing two types of prepaid cards with AAA and FleetBoston Corp. that can be used in place of travelers checks.
One is AAA MemberOne, a Visa-branded card that takes a day or so to receive, is loaded with a certain dollar value, and can be used at any Visa-accepting merchant.
The other card, AAA MemberCash, is issued instantly and is accepted at merchants belonging to the Visa on-line debit network Interlink or at automated teller machines with the Plus logo.
Visa is also working on developing payroll cards, Mr. Kann said.
They could be ideal for employees in the fast-food industry, for example, where the turnover rate is high and the employee base is young, he said.
The cards could be either Visa or Interlink, he said, adding, "My expectation is that we'll see both flavors."