Thursday, November 18, 2010

Study Says Prepaid is Primed For International Expansion

By Marc Dresner, IIR USA

If there’s any truth to the old business adage, “You’re either growing or you’re dying, “ then the prepaid industry is living LARGE overseas!

I recently received some topline stats from Mercator Advisory Group’s inaugural Global Prepaid Card Market Potential Ranking (2010), and the numbers make a compelling case for crossing the pond.

While the U.S. prepaid market – with roughly $330B in loads since 2009 – will likely remain the undisputed 600lb gorilla for years to come, Mercator’s results indicate the rest of the world is primed for prepaid.

The study pegged the aggregate prepaid market opportunity for the top 30 non-U.S. markets at a – cough – respectable $762.2B over time.

(Note: the italics indicate a caveat. Mercator emphasized that the figure above and those that follow are based on a series of relative assumptions and not projectible to a specific year, so please do not go galloping into, say, Eastern Europe without a coat and due diligence.)

BRIC markets have captured the attention and imagination of just about every industry eyeing international expansion – and they show tremendous promise for prepaid – but there is a reason they’re still referred to as “emerging” markets. Mercator’s study suggests that, at least short-term, the best investment opportunities lie in Western Europe.

The top five most promising markets for prepaid expansion are:

1. Germany ($111.0B)
2. Italy (100.7B)
3. France ($74.5B)
4. U.K. ($74.4B)
5. Spain ($45.3B)

It’s a political cliché, but this much is true of Europe: government is BIG, as in capital “B” billions big for prepaid. And this trend is not isolated to Europe. Across all 30 markets Mercator examined, government appears to be the best prospect for prepaid.

Global prepaid opportunity estimates by segment:

1. Government ($425.3B)
2. Store Gift ($164.5B)
3. Open Gift/GPR ($59.6B)
4. Payroll ($51.8B)
5. Incentive Cards ($42.4B)
6. Campus Cards ($18.6B)

Of course, the extent to which each of these segments proves fruitful for expansion differs by country and is subject to a plethora of complex market, cultural and regulatory factors.

International expansion is an intimidating and complicated undertaking, but the numbers paint a promising picture for prepaid.

So…to help U.S. players navigate this new frontier, IIR USA’s Prepaid Expo will close Wednesday March 9th with a series of presentations specially focused on international expansion.

If this particular study is of interest, you’ll be pleased to know that Mercator’s director of international advisory services, Terry Xie, will be among those speakers. Xie plans to review the study findings and implications in detail and offer strategic recommendations for prepaid companies looking to cross borders.

Two final notes:

First, I’m sure some of you took issue with my comment about the relative nascence of BRICs for prepaid. I’m just the messenger. India, for example, ranked 13th out of 30 markets studied.

A panel also slated for Wednesday March 9th at the Prepaid Expo will focus exclusively on India, and will provide deeper insight into the country’s growth potential as well as barriers to entry.

Second, if you are not already aware, IIR USA has joined forces with the UK’s Gift Card and Voucher Association to bring you The Gift Card, Gift Voucher, and Reloadable Card Event on March 30 in London. If Mercator is correct, you won’t want to miss the most comprehensive prepaid event on the continent!

Marc Dresner is an IIR USA communication lead with a background in trade journalism and marketing. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for the marketing research and consumer insights industry. He may be reached at

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