Russia Launches Payment Card Against Existing Players MasterCard and Visa

Russia issued its first electronic payment cards on December 15, 2015, aiming to compete with international payment systems such as Visa and MasterCard. The Russian national payment card system—branded Mir, which means "peace" or "world" in Russian—gained momentum after Russia's parliament passed a law to create a national payment card system. The Russian government has allocated 4.5 billion rubles ($64.2 million) to issue Mir cards, which look similar to international bank cards and feature the Mir logo in the left corner.

Crimea, the peninsula populated by two million people, has faced problems with its banking system since it was annexed from Ukraine. Only a few banks operate there, and cafes and stores in the resort area haven’t been able to accept international bank cards since Visa and MasterCard services were halted.

With the first batch of cards being issued in December 2015, a full commercial rollout is expected to take place in 2016 and it is anticipated that the card will become a major player in the Russian market on par with Visa and MasterCard. The central bank plans to promote the card among state employees in 2016, and further into the future to make it a globally accepted method of payment.

A total of 35 banks are participating in the launch of this new national payments card, and seven have issued the card in the pilot program to test its basic functions.

Bank Rossiya, SMP Bank and RNKB Bank—all of which are on the Western sanctions list—will be among the first Russian lenders to issue the plastic cards. Russia’s largest lenders, Sberbank and VTB, have also joined the national payment system.

The Bank of Russia’s Deputy Chairman Olga Skorobogatova stated, In a year and a half, we have been able to create not only a national payment system but also to solve two strategic objectives. First, we transmitted the processing of major international payment systems to the NPCS operation clearinghouse. The second objective is the issuing of our own national card.

The aim of NPCS was to ensure issuance and operation of cards in Crimea, added Olga Skorobogatova.