Unlike Visa and Mastercard which only process but not issue credit cards, and like Discover, American Express also issues credit cards. The origin of American Express is also very distinguished from those of the competitors. They started out as a domestic express mail service back when the US Post Office did not yet deliver packages. They made a lot of money, and very quickly established the American Express brand as a premium service provider. Later on, American Express gradually transformed itself into a financial services company while skillfully retaining and enhancing the brand nationwide and worldwide.
I am still amazed by the drastic change in the content of my wallet when I first hit mainland American soil in 2007. All of a sudden, the majority of the paper bills seemed to evaporate. And this was not a big deal either – I found myself not touching the remaining few for weeks at times. I have a habit of ordering my paper bills in the order of cleanness so I always get rid of the dirty ones first. My paper bills remained fresh for a long time. But this doesn’t mean I became poorer – the whole stack of paper was replaced by my only debit card at the time. I would have carried a credit card if I had owned one.
Many years ago, before I came to America, I was studying for the IELTS test. The IELTS is a test of English language skills that students coming from countries where English is not the official language have to go through if they want to study in an English-speaking country. For the listening portion of the test, exam-takers listen to an English conversation to answer questions related to the conversation. The conversation topics are sometimes specific to the country that administers the exam: either the UK or Australia.
One of the questions from the listening portion left me really confused at the time, so confused that I still remember it today. Actually the question was easy to answer; it was the content of the question that was not understandable to me. The conversation occurs in a store where the guest is asking whether the store accepts Discover or American Express, to which the waitress responds that they only accept Visa or Mastercard. I had never heard of these names before, and would not until years later when I actually set foot on a country where credit card use is the norm. My reaction at the time was something like: What? What’s American Express? A newspaper? OK, Mastercard is probably a card, but what about Visa? Is it the same sort of thing as a tourist visa? Continue reading Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express: What are they really?