UnionPay has consolidated its position as the largest card scheme worldwide with more than six billion cards in circulation at the end of 2016, according to recent RBR figures.

UnionPay has been the leading card scheme by cards issued since 2010. It further increased its share of total cards in circulation to 43 percent last year, pulling ahead of Visa at 21 percent and Mastercard at 16 percent.

With a billion new cards issued during 2016, the global card market remains buoyant. The number of payment cards worldwide increased by eight percent last year to 14 billion. Asia Pacific was the fastest growing region in terms of card numbers last year, largely due to financial inclusion initiatives.

By 2022, the number of cards worldwide is forecast to rise to 17 billion as many people, particularly in parts of Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, do not currently have a payment card.

UnionPay remains a predominantly domestic scheme with less than one percent of its cards issued outside China. It will continue to focus on overseas expansion as it faces increasing competition from international schemes entering the Chinese market.

Visa has become the first such international card scheme to apply for a bank card clearing operation in China, following market deregulation.

“Visa has filed an application with the People’s Bank of China to participate in the Chinese domestic market as a bank card clearing institution,” the US card giant said in a statement.

Visa expects the central bank to consider its application in line with the publicly released measures and guidelines for bank card clearing institution applicants released by the central bank at the end of June.

Mastercard is also known to be planning entry to the Chinese market.

“UnionPay may struggle to maintain its high global share once the international schemes obtain domestic licences to operate in China. It will increasingly look to expand its business abroad to counteract competition in its home market,” said Daniel Dawson, RBR.

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