It was 1972, and those Australians who knew about credit cards were keen to get hold of some and enjoy their many advantages. Several banks were just as keen, seeing the benefits of making credit available to their customers in this way and stimulating the use of bank services. But for the banks it wasn't just a matter of launching a card.
Australia still has a relatively small population, but it was even smaller then. And that population, despite being somewhat concentrated in the cities, was spread over a huge geographical area. At any rate it would not have been enough to extend credit card services to city people; to be truly effective, a card needed to be usable everywhere in Australia. This is not a problem today; computer and telecommunication technologies have made enormous leaps, and distance is no longer a tyrant. But in 1972, the cost of a national data net was simply not viable for any one bank.
After much research and planning, a lengthy market analysis and the solution of many problems unique to Australia, the major Australian banks were finally ready to launch their credit card. The Australian banking environment was heavily regulated at the time, so talks with the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Federal Treasury were necessary before this momentous move could happen. Finally, after discussion and the submission of reports in 1972, the Reserve Bank gave approval.
The banks that were initially party to the scheme formed a service company to conduct Bankcard's operations - Charge Card Services Limited - which allowed the banks to avoid duplicating costly capital installations like computers and communications networks.
But it was still some time before the Bankcard Scheme could be launched. By 1974, electronic data processing and communications technology had advance sufficiently for a national credit card service to be viable, and the shared facility was finally established.
Charge Card Services Limited provided the services needed by the scheme as a whole. This way, complete customer service in day-to-day operations was achieved and the cost of processing credit card transactions could be firmly controlled.
From the outset, each member bank issued its own variant of the then universal Bankcard card, and was solely responsible for the administration of its own credit rules and customer relations with its own cardholders. As a result, the normal competitive relations between the banks were maintained.
October of 1974 saw the launch of Bankcard, a launch considered by the marketing media as one of the most successful ever. The card was welcomed by the general public and merchants alike. This early optimism was not misplaced. Bankcard is still regarded by many as Australia's number one credit card.
Eighteen months after the launch there were 1,054,000 cardholders, and 49,000 merchants accepted Bankcard.
Three of the Australian member banks had operations in New Zealand, so it was natural to introduce a New Zealand Bankcard as well.
This was done five years after the Australian launch. Eventually, the area in which Bankcard could be used included mainland Australia, Tasmania and Lord Howe Island; Norfolk Island; New Zealand; and the Cook Islands.
Fourteen years after the launch of Bankcard, the exceptional growth of credit card operations and the improvements in technology finally allowed member banks to perform their own data capture and processing in-house.
The Bankcard Scheme was closed on 20 April 2007.