Customizable card designs are not just for people wanting photos of their cats emblazoned on their credit cards. Such an offering also has a role at government agencies to help combine ID cards and payment cards.

The technology played a role in creating Oakland, Calif.'s dual-purpose identification and prepaid card. The card launched in June with the help of customizable card maker Arroweye Solutions, prepaid card program manager Praxell and secure ID and payments company ABNote.

This is the first combination municipal card the companies have created, and it was a difficult process.

"The challenge is creating a secure card with a lot of personal data attached to it in an environment where we can print this on a Visa or MasterCard with a very quick and reliable turn around," says Moshe Golomb, founder and CEO of Praxell. 

While companies will pay less per card using the traditional model they will have to put money into the upkeep of the inventory, including security, says Irene Fogelson, vice president of marketing at Arroweye. The city of Oakland did not respond to requests for comment.

"Having customized card production can help control the costs of a prepaid program both by reducing the costs of the physical cards as well as the costs of maintaining card numbers and accounts on a system," says Ben Jackson, senior analyst at Mercator Advisory Group. "When cards are produced on an as-needed basis, then fulfillment costs can also be reduced along with the risks of lost and stolen cards."

Since the product launched, thousands of people have purchased the Oakland card, says Golomb.

Card.com, a provider of prepaid Visa cards, also works with Arroweye. Card.com allows its customers to pick an image to be printed on their cards, such as Star Trek characters and Garfield. The same card designs can be printed on mailers and card renewal requests.

Oakland's card comes to market less than a year after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced support for an ID that doubled as a payment card to help the city's undocumented Hispanic population and other underbanked citizens.

Other regions might want to launch their own versions of these programs, creating an opportunity for the companies behind them.

"We're trying to get more confirmation on it," says Fogelson. "There's a lot more interest and adoption across other cities in California; L.A. and the city of Richmond are in the process of looking into something like this."

Neither city has selected a company to handle the dual-purpose card launch, she says.

Arroweye also provides a means for program managers to test new card ideas without purchasing large amounts of the product, says Fogelson. These managers "then get feedback…and incrementally increase the volume as they go," she says.

This process works well on the retailer side with merchants such as Macy's and Outback Steakhouse, says Fogelson. Both companies "started small programs and now do almost all online gift cards and printing through us," she says.

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