Cartes Bancaires: An in-depth guide

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  1. Introduction
  2. Where is Cartes Bancaires used?
    1. Market trends and customer preferences
    2. Regulatory environment
  3. Who uses Cartes Bancaires?
    1. Types of businesses
    2. Customer segments
    3. Specific use cases
    4. Additional notes
  4. How does Cartes Bancaires work?
    1. Card issuance and network
    2. Transaction process
    3. Settlement and fees
  5. Benefits of accepting Cartes Bancaires
    1. Market access and customer acquisition
    2. Operational efficiency and cost optimisation
    3. Data insights and customer engagement
    4. Strategic growth and competitive advantage
  6. Cartes Bancaires security measures
    1. Compliance with regulations
  7. Accepting Cartes Bancaires as a payment method
    1. For businesses based in France
    2. For businesses based outside of France
    3. Additional considerations
    4. Accepting CB with Stripe
    5. How to start accepting CB payments with Stripe
  8. Alternatives to Cartes Bancaires
    1. International payment networks
    2. Digital wallets
    3. Other payment methods
    4. Understanding who chooses what payment method
    5. Market dynamics

Cartes Bancaires – also known as CB or "bank cards" in English – is France's local card network, which was established in 1984. It's responsible for processing card transactions and providing secure payments between cardholders and businesses, with 76 million cards in circulation in 2022. And with more than 95% of CB cards being co-branded with the Visa and Mastercard networks, they are an important part of payments in France.

CB operates as a cooperative owned by its member banks – including major French banks, such as BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Société Générale – along with other smaller institutions. Unlike Visa or Mastercard, CB is a non-profit organisation. This means that its primary focus is on serving the French financial system and the country's residents, rather than maximising shareholder profits.

CB acts as a central network for processing card transactions in France. It provides a secure and reliable infrastructure for debit and credit card payments, including online and contactless transactions. CB operates a nationwide network of 50,000 cash machines (figure correct as of 2022) and offers a range of debit and credit card options, including classic cards, contactless cards and premium cards. CB uses advanced security technologies to protect cardholder data and prevent fraud, and it supports various digital wallets such as Apple Pay, allowing for secure and convenient contactless payments via smartphone.

Below, we'll talk through what businesses – based both in France and elsewhere – need to know about Cartes Bancaires, including how it works, who uses it, how to accept it as a payment method and its alternatives.

What's in this article?

  • Where is Cartes Bancaires used?
  • Who uses Cartes Bancaires?
  • How does Cartes Bancaires work?
  • Benefits of accepting Cartes Bancaires
  • Cartes Bancaires security measures
  • Accepting Cartes Bancaires as a payment method
  • Alternatives to Cartes Bancaires

Where is Cartes Bancaires used?

The presence of Cartes Bancaires in France and its influence on European payments is tied closely to the growth of digital and card-based payments, as well as a regulatory environment that supports such advancements. The system's widespread use in France, along with increasing card usage in Europe, suggests a solid foundation for its continued relevance and potential growth in the payment industry.

  • France
    With 15 billion transactions totalling €685 billion in 2022, Cartes Bancaires is deeply embedded in France. Being both widely accepted and combined with a user-friendly interface, the system caters to an increasing preference for digital and card-based payments over cash.

  • Europe
    The expansion of Cartes Bancaires in Europe also reflects the region's shift towards digital payments. Card payments accounted for 46% of all point-of-sale transaction value in the eurozone in 2022. And in 2021, card payment transactions increased by 17.3% in the eurozone, totalling 56.3 billion transactions. The regulatory environment, especially with initiatives such as the revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2), supports this shift by fostering a secure and integrated market for electronic payments across the European Union.

The trend towards digital payments in France and Europe aligns with global shifts away from a reliance on cash payments. Cartes Bancaires' design and functionality cater to these evolving customer preferences, offering convenience and security. The system's compatibility with major international card networks, such as Visa and Mastercard, as demonstrated through co-branding with 95% of CB cards, facilitates the use of Cartes Bancaires both domestically and internationally.

Regulatory environment

The regulatory frameworks in France and the EU have shaped the digital payment environment. Regulations including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and PSD2 play a key role in ensuring data protection and fostering innovation in financial technology. The success and expansion of Cartes Bancaires within these regulatory frameworks demonstrate its compliance and adaptability to evolving legal and financial environments.

Who uses Cartes Bancaires?

While Cartes Bancaires is used primarily in France, its reach extends beyond the country. Here's a breakdown of its usage across various segments.

Types of businesses

  • Retail: Cartes Bancaires dominates French retail, with more than 65% of household purchases made using a CB card. This includes shops that sell food, clothing, electronics and more.

  • E-commerce: Online businesses that are targeting French customers need to offer Cartes Bancaires as a payment option. This is especially true for subscriptions, recurring payments and high-value transactions.

  • Hospitality: Hotels, restaurants and travel agencies in France rely heavily on Cartes Bancaires for guest payments. Its familiarity and security make it a preferred choice for tourists as well.

  • Public services: Government agencies and utility companies often accept Cartes Bancaires for bill payments and other administrative fees. The convenience and security of online payments make it a popular option.

  • Small businesses: The Cartes Bancaires network offers affordable processing fees, making it an attractive option for small businesses in France. Its widespread acceptance also helps it cater to a wider customer base.

Customer segments

  • French residents: Cartes Bancaires is the primary payment method for the vast majority of French citizens. Its convenience, security and availability make it the go-to option for everyday purchases.

  • International travellers: Tourists visiting France will find that Cartes Bancaires are accepted readily at most businesses. The Visa and Mastercard co-branding ensures wider compatibility, even if travellers don't have a French bank account.

  • Millennials and Generation Z: Younger generations in France, who prefer convenience and digital solutions, are increasingly using contactless payments and the Cartes Bancaires network offers both debit and credit options with this feature.

  • High-income individuals: As a secure and reliable payment method, Cartes Bancaires is used by high-income individuals for larger transactions and online purchases.

Specific use cases

  • Everyday purchases: From food shopping and clothing to dining out and entertainment, Cartes Bancaires is widely accepted for everyday expenses in France.

  • Recurring payments: Bills, subscriptions and other recurring payments can be managed seamlessly through Cartes Bancaires. Many online services offer automatic payments through this network.

  • Online shopping: With the rise of e-commerce, Cartes Bancaires has become a preferred payment method for online purchases in France. Its secure online payment system and familiarity build trust among customers.

  • Travel and booking: Tourists can book hotels, flights and other travel arrangements using Cartes Bancaires cards. Its international acceptance paves the way for smooth transactions abroad.

  • Contactless payments: For quick and convenient transactions, the Cartes Bancaires network offers contactless payments through tap-to-pay technology. This is especially popular among the younger generations and urban populations.

Additional notes

  • Co-branding: More than 95% of Cartes Bancaires cards are co-branded with Visa or Mastercard. This allows them to be processed on both networks, offering wider acceptance and flexibility.

  • Security: The Cartes Bancaires network uses advanced security features to protect against fraud and data breaches. This is a major factor in its widespread trust and adoption.

  • Mobile payments: Several digital wallets in France support Cartes Bancaires, enabling secure and convenient mobile payments.

The Cartes Bancaires network plays an important role in French payments, catering to diverse businesses and customer segments. Its convenience, security and nearly ubiquitous acceptance make it a preferred choice for everyday transactions, online purchases and even travel bookings. As technology evolves, Cartes Bancaires also continues to adapt, offering innovative features, such as contactless payments and digital wallets, to remain a leading payment method in France.

How does Cartes Bancaires work?

Cartes Bancaires is a major card payment scheme in France, integrating both debit and credit card features. It's a dominant player in the French market and a key consideration for businesses operating in or with France. Here's how it operates, particularly from a business perspective.

Card issuance and network

CB cards are issued by member banks of the Groupement des Cartes Bancaires CB, a consortium that sets the standards and rules for these cards. The CB network operates in cooperation with international card networks, such as Visa and Mastercard, meaning that CB cards often carry co-branding. This dual functionality expands the card's usability beyond France.

Transaction process

  • Cardholder authorisation: When a customer uses a CB card for a transaction, they may authenticate using a personal identification number (PIN), especially with physical transactions. For online transactions, authentication could involve 3D Secure protocols, adding a layer of security.

  • Data transmission: The payment terminal (or online payment gateway) captures the card details and transaction amount, encrypting and transmitting this data to the business's acquiring bank.

  • Acquirer processing: The acquirer forwards this transaction request to the card issuer through the CB network. The issuer validates the transaction details, including card validity and sufficient funds or credit availability.

  • Authorisation response: The issuer sends an authorisation (or denial) back through the network to the acquirer, which then transmits it to the business's terminal or online system.

Settlement and fees

  • Transaction settlement: After authorisation, the actual transfer of funds from the issuer to the acquirer and then to the business's account occurs. This settlement process typically happens within a few days.

  • Interchange fees: Businesses pay fees for each transaction. These fees include an interchange fee (paid to the card-issuing bank) and service fees for the acquirer and payment processor. The CB fee structure is influenced by various factors, such as transaction type and business category.

We'll talk about security and integrations in more detail below, but here are a few high-level points that businesses should be aware of:

  • Payment terminals and online gateways: Businesses need to integrate CB-compatible terminals for in-person transactions or payment gateways for online sales. This often involves working with payment service providers (PSPs) that support CB transactions.

  • Compliance and security: Compliance with standards, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), is important. For CB transactions, adherence to French and European payment regulations, including security protocols for cardholder data protection, is mandatory.

  • Wide acceptance in France: CB's wide acceptance in France makes it a must-have for businesses operating in the country, allowing customers to conduct transactions smoothly and without barriers.

  • Integration with international cards: Its co-branding with Visa and Mastercard broadens its potential customer base, which is important for businesses catering to international clients.

Benefits of accepting Cartes Bancaires

Accepting Cartes Bancaires offers several benefits for businesses, especially those operating in France or targeting French customers. Here are some key advantages:

Market access and customer acquisition

  • Dominant market share: In 2021, CB captured an 85% share of all card transactions in France, surpassing Visa (3%) and Mastercard (5%).

  • Increased sales: Due to its popularity, businesses accepting CB can see their sales increase compared with those who are not offering the payment option.

  • Enhanced conversion rates: E-commerce platforms integrating CB can see improved conversion rates thanks to the convenience and familiarity it offers French customers.

Operational efficiency and cost optimisation

  • Faster transaction times: CB's processing system averages transaction speeds of just a few seconds, which is significantly quicker than other networks. This translates to reduced waiting times for customers and increased checkout efficiency.

  • Competitive interchange fees: CB interchange fees range from 0.20% to 0.90%, as per European Union regulations for credit and debit card transactions.

  • Reduced fraud losses: CB's advanced security features, which include chip-and-PIN technology and EMV 3D Secure, can contribute to a lower fraud rate.

Data insights and customer engagement

  • Detailed customer data: CB provides businesses with detailed customer demographics, purchase history and spending patterns. This data can be used to personalise marketing campaigns, develop targeted promotions and offer relevant product recommendations.

  • Increased recurring revenue: Recurring payment options facilitated by CB enable businesses to secure a predictable revenue stream and foster long-term customer relationships.

  • Enhanced customer satisfaction: Convenient mobile payment options such as Apple Pay and integrated with CB improve the customer experience and lead to higher satisfaction rates. And adopting mobile payment options can lead to increased customer loyalty.

Strategic growth and competitive advantage

  • Boosting brand reputation: Accepting CB demonstrates a commitment to serving French customers and fosters trust and loyalty. This can also lead to positive word-of-mouth recommendations.

  • Innovation and future-proofing: CB invests in research and development, collaborating with fintech startups to explore advanced payment solutions, such as blockchain technology and biometric authentication. This ensures that businesses remain at the forefront of payment innovation and adapts to evolving customer preferences.

  • Global expansion potential: CB's international partnerships allow businesses to use its network for cross-border transactions, while facilitating potential expansion into new markets. This provides access to untapped customer segments and revenue opportunities.

Cartes Bancaires security measures

As with other financial products, Cartes Bancaires uses a multi-layered approach to protect both businesses and customers. Here's a closer look at the specific features, technologies and regulations that factor into CB's security environment:

  • Chip-and-PIN technology: Each CB card contains an embedded chip that stores encrypted data, including the cardholder's account information and cryptographic keys. This chip adheres to the international EMV standard for compatibility with other chip-based payment systems worldwide. Transactions require the cardholder's PIN for authentication. This PIN is never stored on the card itself, adding another layer of protection against unauthorised use.

  • EMV 3D Secure: For online transactions, CB implements the EMV 3D Secure protocol, a global standard for online payment security. When a cardholder initiates an online payment, they are redirected to their bank's website for additional verification. This may involve entering a secure code received via SMS (Verified by Visa) or a mobile app (Mastercard SecureCode), or using the biometric authentication features of their mobile device, such as fingerprint or facial recognition.

  • Tokenisation: For mobile payments, CB uses tokenisation technology to further enhance security. Instead of transmitting actual card information with each transaction, a unique token is generated. These tokens are temporary and specific to the transaction, making it virtually impossible to use them for fraudulent purposes. CB uses the GlobalPlatform (GP) and Secure Element (SE) technologies within mobile wallets such as Apple Pay to securely store and manage these tokens.

  • Data encryption: All data transmitted between businesses, acquiring banks and the CB network is encrypted using industry-standard algorithms, such as AES-256. This ensures that sensitive information, such as cardholder data and transaction details, remains confidential and protected from unauthorised access. CB adheres to the PCI DSS, a set of rigorous security requirements designed to protect cardholder data. This compliance involves regular audits, risk assessments and implementation of specific security controls to maintain a secure environment.

  • Fraud monitoring and detection: CB relies on sophisticated fraud monitoring systems that analyse transaction patterns in real time. These systems employ advanced algorithms and machine-learning techniques to detect anomalies and suspicious activity which may indicate fraudulent attempts. Suspicious transactions are flagged for further investigation and timely intervention, which can help to mitigate losses.

  • Collaboration: CB actively collaborates with law enforcement agencies, financial institutions and other stakeholders to combat fraud and improve the overall security of the payment system. This collaboration involves sharing information about emerging threats, developing new fraud prevention strategies and working together to bring perpetrators to justice.

Compliance with regulations

CB adheres to a strict regulatory framework, which includes:

  • The EU's GDPR, which governs the collection, use and storage of personal data

  • The French Data Protection Act (Loi Informatique et Libertés), which provides additional safeguards for protecting personal data

  • PSD2, which regulates the European payment environment and introduces new security requirements for online payments

Accepting Cartes Bancaires as a payment method

While the specific requirements for accepting CB differ for French and international businesses, the overall process involves partnering with a suitable provider, applying for a merchant account, integrating the payment gateway and complying with relevant regulations. Here's a breakdown of what you need to know.

For businesses based in France

  • Choose an acquiring bank: Partner with a French acquiring bank that is authorised to process CB transactions. Options include traditional banks, online payment service providers and fintech businesses. Research and compare the fees, services and integration options offered by different providers to select the best fit for your business.

  • Apply for a merchant account: Submit a merchant account application to your chosen acquiring bank. This typically involves providing business details, financial statements and legal documents. Depending on the bank and the type of business, additional documentation or approvals may be required.

  • Implement terminals or integration: Physical shops will need to purchase or lease a CB-compatible payment terminal. They will need to make sure that it supports chip-and-PIN technology and contactless payments. E-commerce businesses need to integrate a CB payment gateway with their online platform. PSPs often offer pre-built solutions for low-touch integration.

  • Gain approval from the acquiring bank: The acquiring bank will review the business's application and perform its due diligence. This may involve credit checks and verifying information about the business. Once approved, the business will receive the necessary equipment and access to a merchant portal for managing transactions and settlements.

  • Sign contracts and pay fees: Review and sign the merchant agreement with your chosen acquiring bank. Pay any initial setup fees and agree upon ongoing processing fees and transaction costs.

For businesses based outside of France

  • Find a partner: Collaborate with a PSP that specialises in international payment processing and supports CB payments. These providers can handle currency conversion, cross-border transactions and compliance with French regulations. Research and compare different PSPs based on their fees, services and international experience.

  • Apply for a merchant account: Apply for a merchant account with their chosen PSP. This typically requires providing similar documentation as the process for French-based businesses. The PSP may have additional requirements that are specific to international businesses, such as international credit checks.

  • Integrate with the payment gateway: Integrate your chosen PSP's CB payment gateway with your online platform or e-commerce shop. The gateway should support several different payment methods, including chip-and-PIN cards and digital wallets such as Apple Pay.

  • Activate the merchant account: Once your application has been approved, the PSP will activate your merchant account and provide access to a merchant portal for managing transactions and settlements.

  • Review currency conversion rates and fees: Understand and agree to the PSP's currency-conversion rates and fees for processing international transactions. Make sure that you have a clear understanding of all the associated costs and are prepared for potential fluctuations in exchange rates.

Additional considerations

  • Comply with French regulations: Businesses outside of France must comply with French regulations, including PCI DSS and data protection laws.

  • Know the tax implications: Understand how accepting CB payments might affect your tax obligations in both your home country and France.

  • Research customer support: Choose a PSP offering multilingual customer support to ensure that you receive assistance when needed.

  • Distinction in dispute rules: It is important to note that there are three main differences in dispute rules between CB, Visa and Mastercard. Unlike Visa and Mastercard: (1) the CB scheme does not support commercial disputes (for instance undelivered goods), so the buyer has to solve this with the business directly; (2) CB does not give businesses the option of disputing a payment due to fraud reasons; and (3) CB does not charge any fees for disputes.

Stripe, a global online payment processing platform, simplifies the process of accepting international payment methods – including Cartes Bancaires – for businesses around the world.

Here's how Stripe facilitates CB acceptance and what businesses need to do to get started:

Accepting CB with Stripe

  • Global reach: With Stripe, businesses can accept CB payments no matter their location. This is an advantage for e-commerce platforms or any business with an international customer base.

  • Integration with existing systems: Stripe's platform is designed to integrate with a business's existing website or e-commerce system. It offers application programming interfaces (APIs) and pre-built plugins for popular e-commerce platforms, making it relatively easy to add CB as a payment option.

  • Unified platform: Stripe provides a unified platform to manage various payment methods, including CB. This means that businesses can handle transactions, refunds and customer data across all payment types in one place.

How to start accepting CB payments with Stripe

  • Set up a Stripe account: The first step is to create a Stripe account. This involves providing business details and completing a verification process.

  • Configure payment settings: Once your Stripe account has been set up, navigate to the Dashboard where you can configure your payment settings. Here, you can enable different payment methods, including Cartes Bancaires. Stripe's Dashboard is user-friendly, making it easy to select and activate your desired payment options.

  • Integrate with your website or app: Next, integrate Stripe with your website or application. Stripe offers various integration options:

  • Stripe Checkout: Checkout is a pre-built, Stripe-hosted payment page that can be easily integrated and customised. It's a quick way to start accepting different payment methods, such as CB.

  • Stripe Elements: Stripe Elements offers customisable UI components for building your own checkout experience. If you prefer a more tailored approach, use Elements to create a checkout form that fits your website's design.

  • API integration: For businesses with specific needs or existing systems, Stripe's APIs allow for more customised integrations. This requires some work on the development side, but it offers the most flexibility.

  • Test the integration: Before going live, use Stripe's test mode to double-check that everything about your checkout process works as expected. This includes testing the CB payment flow to verify that transactions are being processed smoothly.

  • Go live: After thorough testing, switch from test mode to live mode in your Stripe Dashboard. Your website or app can now accept CB payments.

Alternatives to Cartes Bancaires

While Cartes Bancaires is the leader in France, offering a diverse range of payment options is always a smart move. Here's a look at some of the main alternatives to CB in France, their advantages and disadvantages, how they compare with each other and who might benefit from using them.

International payment networks

Visa and Mastercard: These global networks offer extensive reach and familiarity, making them ideal for businesses that serve customers around the world. Their extensive network ensures seamless cross-border transactions and access to a vast customer base.

  • Pros: Widely accepted, familiar to international customers, secure and convenient

  • Cons: Higher processing fees compared with CB and may not resonate as well with local customers

American Express: This premium network caters to a higher-spending clientele with a brand reputation that reflects that, making it a strong choice for businesses that deal in luxury goods or other high-value services.

  • Pros: The brand suggests exclusivity and prestige, which attracts higher-spending customers

  • Cons: Lower acceptance rates compared with Visa and Mastercard, with higher processing and annual fees

JCB: While not as ubiquitous as other payment methods, JCB is gaining traction in France, particularly among Japanese tourists and business travellers. Accepting JCB demonstrates a commitment to the local market while serving a specific, high-spending demographic group.

  • Pros: High spending power of Japanese customers and a growing acceptance rate

  • Cons: Limited acceptance compared with other major networks

Digital wallets

Apple Pay: This mobile-based wallet offers a convenient and contactless payment experience, making it favoured by tech-savvy customers, younger generations and city dwellers.

  • Pros: Convenient, secure, contactless and growing in popularity

  • Cons: May require specific, newer smartphone models and their adoption is limited among older and less urban demographics

PayPal: This global online payment platform enjoys a significant customer base in France and around the world, making it a valuable option for businesses with an online presence.

  • Pros: Secure, widely recognised and familiar to online shoppers

  • Cons: May require additional fees for businesses and is not suitable for transactions

Lydia and Paylib: These French-developed mobile wallets offer instant peer-to-peer payments and in-shop transactions, appealing to tech-savvy French customers.

  • Pros: Locally popular, convenient and have a growing customer base

  • Cons: Limited international recognition as they may not be familiar to non-French customers

Other payment methods

Direct debit: This method facilitates smooth, recurring payments for subscriptions or memberships, making them ideal for businesses with predictable revenue streams.

  • Pros: Guaranteed payments, reduced administrative costs and suitable for subscriptions

  • Cons: Requires trust from customers and may not be suitable for one-off purchases

Prepaid digital wallets: Prepaid electronic wallets, such as PCS Mastercard and TransCash, are popular among younger generations and unbanked individuals, offering an alternative to traditional bank accounts.

  • Pros: Convenient, accessible for unbanked individuals and widely accepted

  • Cons: Lower transaction limits and a potential for security concerns

Understanding who chooses what payment method

  • Foreign tourists: Likely to use international networks such as Visa, Mastercard or JCB

  • Tech-savvy customers: Prefer contactless options such as digital wallets (e.g. Apple Pay) or local wallets (e.g. Lydia, Paylib)

  • Online shoppers: Likely to opt for familiar platforms, such as PayPal

  • Subscription-based businesses: Benefit from direct debit for recurring payments

  • Businesses in specific industries: May find digital wallets or cash on delivery to be valuable options

Market dynamics

CB remains dominant in France, but alternative options are gaining traction. International networks offer global reach, while digital wallets cater to tech-savvy segments. Alternative methods cater to specific needs and demographics. Businesses need to weigh their target audience, transaction types, customer base, location and other considerations for choosing the most suitable mix of payments to accept.

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