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Russia's Mir payment cards to give Visa and MasterCard a run for their money

May 02, 15:50 UTC+3 TASS-FACTBOX. May 1

The need to develop Mir payment cards was prompted by US sanctions imposed on Russia in the spring of 2014

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TASS-FACTBOX. May 2, 2017. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law on amending article 16-1 of the Federal Law "On the Protection of Consumers’ Rights" and the Federal Law "On the National Payment System." Under this document, all public sector workers and persons entitled to welfare benefits from the federal budget or state extra-budgetary funds will switch over to domestically-issued Mir payment cards from July 1, 2018.

Retirees will start using Mir cards from July 1, 2020. Mir card issuance and servicing for Russian pensioners will be free of charge. Moreover, all cash dispensers and terminals operated by Russian banks will be required to accept Mir cards for payment from July 1, 2017. All Russian businesses with transactions of over 40 million rubles ($700,000) a year must start accepting Mir payment cards before October 1, 2017.

The need for domestic payment platform and payment card

The need to develop Mir payment cards was prompted by US sanctions imposed on Russia in the spring of 2014. Due to the sanctions, the world’s two largest payment systems Visa and MasterCard blocked transactions with the cards of Russia’s Rossiya Bank, its subsidiary Sobinbank, and also SMP Bank without any notice on March 21, 2014. Some other banks, in particular, Investcapitalbank, were also confronted with the problems related to payment card servicing. In December 2014, Visa and MasterCard stopped servicing bank cards in Crimea and Sevastopol (their operation on the Black Sea peninsula restarted in April 2015).

Law on national payment card system

On May 5, 2014, President Vladimir Putin signed amendments to the Law on the National Payment System and Some Legislative Acts, requiring Visa, MasterCard and other payment systems to switch to processing Russian transactions through the national payment card system (the transition was completed on April 1, 2015). Russia also announced that it would develop a new national payment card.

On May 23, 2015, it was announced that Russia’s new payment card was called Mir. On December 15, 2015, Russia’s Central Bank and the National Payment Card System announced the commencement of Mir payment card issuance. Gazprombank, MDM Bank, Moscow Industrial Bank, RNCB Bank, Rossiya Bank, Sviaz-Bank and SMP Bank were the first lenders to issue these cards. The mass issuance of Mir payment cards started in the second half of 2016.

Technology

It emerged in 2014 that the Russian company OpenWay Solutions affiliated with Belgium’s OpenWay (its technologies are used in the Universal Electronic Card project) would develop the domestic payment card system. The project was estimated at 2.8 billion rubles ($49 million). Russia’s Central Bank stressed at that time that all initial codes, licenses and intellectual property rights to the system would be transferred to the national payment card system.

The Mir payment card platform operates through the system’s national operational and clearing center. Chips for Mir cards are produced by Mikron and Angstrem hi-tech firms in Zelenograd outside Moscow.

The principles of the Mir card operation do not differ from the principles of foreign analogs. The contactless payment function will become operational in 2017.

Statistics and plans

Overall, 356 banks or 58% of all Russian credit institutions have joined the Mir payment system by May 2017. Of this number, 75 banks issue Mir cards and 181 lenders accept these cards in their payment terminals.

Over 5 million Mir cards have been issued by now and currently 2 million operational terminals, including about 200,000 cash dispensers, accept them in Russia.

In December 2016, the pilot version of Mir’s cashback loyalty program was launched. Russia’s National Payment Card System and the Central Bank of Russia numerously stressed that the cost of Mir cards would be lower than the cost of foreign rivals both for issuer banks and users.

Mir cards carry the chips of other payment systems for their use abroad. Specifically, Russia issues Mir cards jointly with Maestro and JCB.

According to media reports, the Mir card issuance will cost 1.5 euros per card compared with 2 euros for its foreign rivals.

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