Visa Inc. isn't expecting a near-term financial boost from processing domestic card transactions in China, even though the doors have finally opened up to do business in the massive Chinese market.
Because China's two-step application process could take more than a year for Visa or any other card brand to complete, Visa views China as "a very long-term opportunity," said Ryan McInerney, Visa's president, during a presentation May 19 at the 43rd annual JPMorgan global technology, media and telecom conference in Boston.
Visa has conducted business in China for years and has long-standing relationships with all of the large banks, mostly to provide payment cards to Chinese customers traveling outside of China.
"That's a big and growing business, and very important for us to keep relationships with those clients we already have in China," McInerney said.
But Visa, along with MasterCard, has a chance to dip its toes into the domestic card business in China, playing in a field heavily dominated by China UnionPay.
China UnionPay is the lone clearing house for payments in the country, thus it looms as a significant competitor in China for any foreign card brand.
To Visa's advantage, it represents a larger global network than China UnionPay and has some experience at competing in global markets.
"They are real competitors," McInerney said of China UnionPay and other foreign payment companies.
"We compete against them day in and day out in many countries around the world," he added. "We know how to compete against them and it's about adding value to the transaction and adding value to our clients in building a brand that matters to customers."
U.S. card brands are not the only payments entities with something to gain in an open market in China.
San Jose, Calif.-based terminal maker Verifone is watching closely as the Chinese domestic market opens, with plans to sell new terminals if Visa or MasterCard acceptance takes off.
China's State Council declared in April that it would establish the rules Visa and MasterCard would have to follow, starting June 1, to compete in the country's payments industry, estimated at handling $73 trillion a year.
News about U.S. companies' involvement in payments in China heated up this month on another front, with Apple Inc. and Alibaba Group indicating they are in talks to bring Apple Pay to the country.
In other major global matters, McInerney said there is nothing new to say on Visa Inc.'s potential acquisition of Visa Europe.
"We have shared a brand and shared clients with Visa Europe, and that relationship is as strong as ever," McInerney said. "But the [acquisition] decision is up to the Visa Europe board and out of our hands."
Visa hired McInerney as president two years ago, bringing him on from JPMorgan Chase just six months after hiring another former Chase exec, Charlie Scharf, as the card network's CEO.