OH BY THE WAY WE CHANGED YOUR CREDIT CARD NETWORK, HERE YOU GO

On Friday evening I returned from work after a long week, eager to relax and begin my weekend. Before going upstairs to my abode, I check my mailbox. There’s a letter from MBNA, one of my credit card issuers. I have a MasterCard from them, one of the best rated cards for rewards. The envelope is thick, full of documents, and there is a hard piece of plastic inside, the exact shape of a credit card. This is odd since I never ordered another card from them.

I get upstairs and inside my apartment. I open the letter to reveal a Visa Infinite credit with my name on it plastered to a letter. I read the opening paragraph and it basically says, “here’s your new Visa card.” Inside, I start to freak out a bit and worry. I never applied for a Visa card. Why did I get this? I quickly rifle through the rest of the envelope and there several standard looking pamphlets in there, all relating to legal speak for privacy and such. I don’t look through the rest.

My immediate thought is that someone has ordered this card on my behalf and was waiting to intercept it or steal it from my mailbox before I could get to it. This actually a technique that identity thieves have used in the past. I call MBNA straight away to find out how this application went through and to cancel the card.

I have to wait about five minutes but I get a live customer service rep on Friday evening, which I feel thankful for. I explain to her that I have this card that I never applied for and I believe I may be a victim of fraud. Incredulously, she says that while no one would fault me for thinking like that, the new Visa Infinite was indeed meant for me and no one filled out an application for it. In fact, there is no way to get the card with an application.

The lady explained to me that my current MasterCard is being phased out and will cease to work on December 1. All such cardholders, like myself, are being switched to Visa Infinite cards and that’s why I received that card in the mail. I was slightly stunned by the news because such a big change was never communicated to me in any form, neither mail nor e-mail. I could only blurt out a “what?” The lady sorta just sighed and admitted that they had received many complaints about how this was poorly communicated to cardholders.

Adjusting to news, I then said that MBNA had done a terrible job letting people know of the change. How could this be the first indication that this was happening? Like the getting the new card in the mail, is the one and only communication this is happening. The rep sounded sympathetic with me and went on to explain that the card remained a no-fee one, the rewards remained the same, and that my balance would automatically transfer over to the new card once it was activated (thereby deactivating my MasterCard).

I thanked her for the info but again strongly disagreed with the way this was communicated. Knowing that I wasn’t a victim of fraud, I thanked the rep for her time and concluded the call. Poor lady, it wasn’t her fault this decision was made but I imagine she was getting calls like this all the time.

So is this really a big deal? Well first, I’ve never heard of a credit card issuer changing thousands of cardholders en masse from one network to another, especially without warning. At the very best, they could have sent an e-mail or a letter in advance saying hey, we’re about to do this, there’s nothing you can do about it, but at least you know in advance. They did no such thing.

On the surface, this may seem to have no impact since the terms are not changing at all and since Visa and MasterCard are the two biggest networks anyways. There are subtle but big ramifications for me possibly. First, is that there are indications that for Visa, paying at Walmart does not yield a merchant code that falls under “groceries” or “supermarkets”. This is important because for this particular rewards card, I get 2% back when I buy from groceries or supermarkets. For better or worse, I frequently buy from Walmart and if the merchant code changes under Visa, I miss out on that 2% reward, instead it goes down to 1% back.

Second, and even worse, Walmart and Visa are locked in a massive battle of wills in Canada. Essentially, Walmart Canada has started to stop accepting Visa cards in this country due to payment processing fees. It’s quite possible in a few months, I won’t be able to use this new Visa card in Walmart. Previously, Walmart was the place that I used this card the most and the store where I received the highest percentage of my rewards. If that happens, I would probably cancel this card and look for a new card, a MasterCard again, that offered the same rewards.

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