An industry analyst is cutting his growth projections for prepaid cards in Europe because the market is taking longer to grow than he expected. Chris Jones, a senior consultant with United Kingdom-based PSE Consulting, says he has revised a projection he made in 2006 that prepaid card spending in Europe would reach 75 billion euros (US$117 billion) by 2010 and that card issuance would top 360 million throughout the continent. "It just hasn't taken off as quickly as people anticipated, for a myriad of reasons," Jones tells CardLine Global sister publication Cards&Payments. "This is in contrast to the U.S., where in some sectors prepaid has exceeded original expectations." Jones' projections take in both network-branded, open-loop and proprietary, closed-loop prepaid cards, such as most retailer gift cards. The projections exclude most transit cards and all cards used for topping up prepaid mobile airtime. Jones declines to publicly release his new projection for 2010. Europe has lagged behind the United States in the growth of prepaid cards because bank accounts cost less to maintain in Europe, Europeans write fewer checks than Americans and Europe has a smaller unbanked population, says Jones. Moreover, European banks have relatively little experience operating the kind of "novel" marketing and distribution schemes that successful prepaid cards often require. By comparison, in the United States, branded- and private-label prepaid card transactions will grow from $131 billion this year to $178 billion by 2010, according to U.S.-based research firm Aite Group. "People from America see Europe and think the market has similar potential," Chris Reddish, head of prepaid at MasterCard Worldwide's European unit, tells Cards&Payments. "It's much more complicated and sophisticated to get into the market." However, MasterCard is pleased with the growth of prepaid to date, he adds. Jones says he believes the market eventually will take off and is projecting transaction values will increase to 131 billion euros by 2015, including transactions from Turkey, Russia and other prepaid-oriented countries of Eastern Europe. Cards for online payments and corporate payroll and expenses are among the categories likely to grow at a healthy clip generally throughout Europe, Jones says.

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