I have done work for a large northwest bank in the US for the past few years. When they contacted me recently to do some work for their bank card division, I felt it was time to see if I could get some plastic out of the deal. So I asked for a tour of the embossing facility – and I also asked for some samples to go in my credit card collection.
This “parent” bank issues Visas and MasterCards for approximately 100 smaller “correspondent” banks. They issue numerous affinity bank cards. They also emboss cards for local merchants and banks. In total, they issue a few hundred different cards. So when I found myself in their vault, with thousands of unembossed cards, it was hard to keep from drooling.
The security surrounding sample credit cards
While touring the facility, I was told about the impressive security regarding the delivery of blank cards from the manufacturers. This bank orders its card stock from two different manufacturers in Los Angeles. The cards are counted before they leave the producer. If the cards don’t travel on a non-stop flight, then a guard must accompany the flight to ensure the cards are not unloaded before they reach their destination. A guard monitors the arrival of the cards and escorts them to an armored car. When the cards reach the bank, they are counted the same day to ensure there is no discrepancy.
When bank employees remove cards from the vault, they always work in teams of two. All cards taken from the vault must be logged out. Unused cards are re-counted before being returned to the vault.
Manufacturing credit cards
Every morning, the embossing facility receives a computer tape and a report. The report tells them how many of each card is to be produced that day and in what order. The blank cards are loaded on a tray and fed through the embosser as the computer tape is read. The embosser has five or six different stations. One station encodes the magnetic stripe on the back. Another colors the raised letters and numbers. Each of the other stations create the individual lines on the card.
While the computer tape is being read, a printer simultaneously prints the cardboard mailer/holder. Prior to insertion in the envelopes, another machine reads the holders and the cards and inserts the cards into the holders’ slots. It makes sure that the account numbers match and that the right number of cards are inserted. When a discrepancy is found, it stops.
I have been involved in computer work for ten years. I was impressed by the degree of automation in this process, particularly since this facility still had some of their 1960s equipment, which clearly illustrated how far they had come in 20 years.
The tour and the equipment were interesting, but I could hardly keep my mind off of all those cards. I did receive some very nice samples, but now it’s back to the kitchen table and filling out those applications.
Copyright 1988 by Mark Glover