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Visa Consulting and Analytics

July 2021


11 - 14 Minutes

Seven ways to use card on file to reach top of digital wallet

Ecommerce sales are projected to grow from $4.2 trillion worldwide in 2020 to $5.4 trillion in 20221. In North America, card-not-present transactions (excluding travel) have grown as much as 30 percent2. These shifts and ecommerce growth trends are creating an undeniable need for businesses and financial institutions to think digital.

Card-on-file (COF) adoption or, storing your payment credentials with a merchant to easily process future transactions, is an essential way to benefit from this rapid growth and succeed in a digital-first world. There are now more than 500 million Apple Pay users3, 207 million Netflix subscribers4 and 200 million Amazon Prime members worldwide, with countless other subscription and on-demand services. Each of these players require customers to save a COF for one-time and recurring purchases5. A recent research study in Canada identified that 7 in 10 Amazon shoppers have saved their credit card on file to make future purchases even more convenient6.

But how do issuers ensure their card is the one their customers will choose first in implementing COF? Reaching this top of “digital” wallet status requires the issuer to take actionable steps to influence that decision, one that benefits the consumers with efficiency (no need to enter card credentials every time they want to make a purchase with, ease (automates monthly bill pay and helps avoid late fees), and convenience (eliminates need to carry a physical card).

In a U.S. research study, 48 percent of consumers mentioned that they save their card information on websites / apps for shopping7. In Canada, an analysis of VisaNet data identified that 90 percent of all Visa credit cards that had at least one transaction in the past year were used for a COF transaction8.


Now is the time to pay close attention to the COF customer experience to drive card primacy and help increase transaction volume.

Correlation between COF and spend

COF has the power to directly impact revenue for a card issuer, especially since cardholders don’t usually change their card frequently in digital channels or apps, unless there is an issue with card fraud. In fact, we’ve observed that there is a direct correlation between overall spend on the card and COF usage across products (debit and credit) in various markets. Leveraging VisaNet data we created a model called Digital Maturity Index to better understand digital engagement and segmented cardholders based on their purchase behavior. For example, in Canada we can see that as Visa Debit cardholders store their card information across more digital merchants their overall spend on card significantly increases – a 2X increase in number of merchants results in a 4X increase in overall card spend and a 7X increase in number of merchants results in a 17X increase in overall spend.


Similarly, on the credit side high COF users spend 2.4X higher than average9.

Becoming a COF influencer

There are three key areas where consumers can use COF: online shopping (storing the payment credentials on a merchant website or app like Amazon.com); subscription services and bill payments (automatic scheduled payments for subscription services like Netflix, or utilities or phone bills); and digital and virtual wallets (such as Apple Pay, Microsoft Store or PayPal).

Financial institutions looking to enhance the COF experience for consumers and drive COF activation can achieve all three of the above areas in the following ways:

Engage and educate early:

  1. Take advantage of the first 90 days after a card has been issued to a cardholder, when consumers are excited to use their new card, and educate them on the convenience of storing the COF. A cardholder’s overall engagement has been shown to increase after activating COF: 1.5x increase in number of total card transactions over the six months after the first COF transaction10. Educate cardholders on how to load their card at popular merchants (e.g., Amazon) and on digital wallets through interactive media, such as online videos and tutorials. New features like instant issuance and virtual cards are reducing the wait time for a consumer to receive a new card from days to a few hours, helping to promote digital spend behavior.
  2. Use email and mobile notifications to ensure your early-month-on-book programs have a strong emphasis on COF activation. Research has shown that consumers who do not adopt COF actively in the first six months don’t tend to be top of wallet or highly engaged with the card over the long-term11.
  3. Many issuers drive this behavior by using tiered offers (e.g., store your card at three merchants and get $10 in rewards). This is driven by the understanding that many cardholders have multiple subscription services (more than four on average, with music and entertainment being the most popular categories12) that require members to store their card on file. For example, Chase recently partnered with Lyft to provide its members 10X points and 15 percent off ride shares as incentive to use their card as the app’s default payment method13.

Lead the way:

  1. Many cardholders default to subscription services to enable COF for recurring bill payments. However, educating customers on categories where COF is evolving, and highlighting rewards can further accelerate penetration. For instance, Visa payment analytics data in Canada revealed that some cardholders use COF at retail goods or utilities merchants whereas more digitally mature cardholders have adopted COF across many categories, such as food and grocery to home improvement providers14.
  2. Issuers are also utilizing merchant relationships and forming new partnerships to enhance the offering – mixing rewards on the card with loyalty rewards at the merchant to strengthen the COF value proposition. For example, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) partnered with Amazon to launch “CIBC Deals Day” where customers were provided a one-time $10 discount, when they purchased a product on Amazon’s curated store with a CIBC credit card15.

Measure, monitor and win-back:

  1. Proactive retention management is also a key factor to ensure top-of-digital-wallet status. Many digital-savvy customers are quick to flock to the best value or reward. Discount and additional point offers may motivate many of them to change their mobile pay COF. In one study, at least eight-out-of-ten mobile pay users say they would be very/somewhat motivated to change the card they use in their Mobile Pay wallet for an offer such as a purchase discount, 2X points per dollar or additional credit card points16. Additionally, having measures that trigger incentives or notifications when a card issuer ‘detects’ that a COF was lost or moved off their card can reduce leakage.
  2. Tenured cardholders tend to be more passive than digital-savvy ones. Recent Visa research17 explored incentives that could drive behavior and showed that a $5 incentive is optimal to motivate customers to use their debit card. In the study, approximately 75 percent of consumers said they would probably use their debit card at Amazon, 83 percent would use their card to make a cellphone bill payment and 50 percent would load their card onto a digital wallet.

Customer experience for the win

Many merchants are now adopting digital wallet APIs in their checkout flow to allow consumers to quickly use their Apple Pay and Google Pay at checkout to make the customer experience even more frictionless. Click to pay is another way that online merchants can provide an easy and secure checkout experience when customers are not known to them. By implementing these solutions, customers no longer need to enter account numbers or fill out lengthy forms to make a purchase.

Issuers are also developing capabilities like account aggregation and subscription management as consumers demand features and alerts that help them monitor the flow of their money. Recent research revealed that eight in 10 cardholders who currently have subscriptions or memberships said it would be valuable if their payment card issuer notified them of an upcoming subscription or membership fee18. Visa Cardholder Enrollment Hub is a service for issuers to enable cardholders to “push” their card from the issuer digital banking app into a destination wallet or merchant. Issuers, in turn, can gain top-of-wallet status through a simple and seamless experience with participating merchants19.

COF payments drive stickiness and overall engagement with the card. For issuers, COF drives card primacy and can impact the overall volume on the card. For merchants, it can increase loyalty with the brand and enables a more delightful checkout experience. Ultimately, consumers win too with the added convenience, security, and speed of COF.

Stay current with the latest payments insights from Visa Navigate North America – subscribe today.

1Statista, E-commerce worldwide - Statistics & Facts, April 15, 2021, https://www.statista.com/topics/871/online-shopping/#dossierSummary

2 Visa Q2 2021 Earnings, https://s1.q4cdn.com/050606653/files/doc_financials/2021/q2/CORRECTED-TRANSCRIPT_-Visa,-Inc.(V-US),-Q2-2021-Earnings-Call,-27-April-2021-5_00-PM-ET.pdf

3 Statista, Sept. 2020 https://www.statista.com/statistics/911914/number-apple-pay-users/

4 Statista, Apr 2021 https://www.statista.com/statistics/250934/quarterly-number-of-netflix-streaming-subscribers-worldwide/

5 Amazon, Investor Relations, https://ir.aboutamazon.com/news-release/news-release-details/2021/Amazon.com-Announces-First-Quarter-Results/default.aspx

6 IPSOS Study, Is Covid Killing Cash in Canada? 1 Sep 2020, https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-polls/Is-Covid-Killing-Cash-in-Canada

7 Visa Research Study, Driving Engagement with Increasingly Digital Consumers, Oct 2020

8 VisaNet Analysis, Canada Consumer Credit Cards, April 2020 – March 2021. Excludes data that do not meet legal, regulatory and privacy rules

9 VisaNet Analysis, Canada Jan 2020 – Dec 2020, Avg. transactions and spend on card numbers are rounded for presentation purposes. In Canada, Visa Debit is used only for card not present and cross border purchases. Domestic card present Debit transactions are not captured on VisaNet.

10 VisaNet Analysis, Jan – December 2019

11 VisaNet Analysis, Jan – Dec 2020

12 Auriemma Research, The Payments Report, March 2020, https://www.auriemma.group/auriemma-insights/

13 Lyft, https://www.lyft.com/chase

14 VisaNet Analysis, Canada Debit, October 2019 – September 2020

15 Amazon, https://www.amazon.ca/adlp/cibcdealdays

16 Auriemma Research, The Payments Report, March 2020

17 Visa Global Insights & Analytics Research, Growing Debit Share, Sep 2020 (n=1301)

18 Auriemma Research, The Payments Report, March 2020

19 Visa Developer, https://developer.visa.com/use-cases/enable-simple-card-loading

All brand names, logos and/or trademarks are the property of their respective owners, are used for identification purposes only, and do not necessarily imply product endorsement or affiliation with Visa.

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