United Kingdom-based department-store chain Debenhams plc has launched a MasterCard-branded prepaid chip card, a spokesperson for PrePay Technologies Ltd., the UK firm that is managing the effort, tells CardLine Global. The card functions essentially as a debit card, "but with the functionality of a MasterCard rather than a Maestro card," the spokesperson says. Consumers can add value to the cards at such locations as Debenhams stores and outlets of UK-based Post Office Ltd., and through funds transfers from bank accounts. Cardholders also can choose to have their wages directly deposited to the card's account, the spokesperson says. The spokesperson declines to say how many cards the department store might issue this year. In general, increasing the use and acceptance of prepaid cards in the UK will require issuers to persuade consumers to "abandon traditionally free banking and switch to prepaid," the spokesperson says. But there is reason for optimism. "The financial climate we operate in currently means the 'spend only what you have' message associated with prepaid is more appealing to more people, and we are seeing an upsurge in the number of people applying and using [our] prepaid cards," the spokesperson says. Increasing the popularity of prepaid cards in the UK also will involve improving retail distribution and offering services "above and beyond those offered with High Street banking," he says. Debenhams operates about 145 stores in the UK and Ireland.

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