"Access - Your Flexible Friend" ™
The History of the Access Credit Card
It will probably not surprise you to find out that the story of the Access credit card begins quite some time before its actual launch.
Although other plastic cards had been issued in the UK before (Finders Services in 1951, followed by Diners Club in 1962 and American Express in 1963, it was not until 1966 that the first UK credit card was launched. This was, of course, Barclaycard!
A common misconception was that the Barclaycard product was a Visa product from its launch. However, from 1966, the British Barclaycard had actually been a licensed version of Bank of America's BankAmericard. Bank of America gave up control of BankAmericard in 1970, and eventually, it became re-branded as Visa, when in 1975, Barclaycard and the other licensees became the founding members of Visa. Barclaycard began to carry the Visa logo on its cards soon after.
It was not until 1967 that the Bank of England permitted 'Extended Credit', and until 8th November 19671, Barclaycard balances had to be settled in full when the bill arrived. From 8th November 1967, though, the concept of revolving credit and minimum payments became available.
There is information online which states that at the time that Barclays Bank was about to launch Barclaycard, they invited other banks to share in the set-up costs and to use the platform for their own cards. No other banks took them up on this, believing that credit cards would not be a great success.
There are several ways to interpret that last statement. One way would to be consider that Barclays enjoyed a complete credit card monopoly until the launch of Access. The other would be that the banks who launched Access simply waited, let Barclays take all the risk, and launched what was effectively a cartel which couldn't fail some years later.
Whichever way you choose to view this, the next steps of the history were that on 26th November 1971, the brandname 'Access' was registered as a trademark. On 23rd October 1972, the Access credit card was publicly launched. See here for details.
However, a House of Commons 'Order of the Day' article does help us to narrow the launch date to some time in October 1972. This same article also tells us of the MP's letter of 15th April 1971, asking for the matter of Access to be referred to the Monopolies Commission - so clearly preparations for Access preceded it's launch by a long time.
The banks that launched Access were: Lloyds Bank, Midland Bank, National Westminster Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland/Williams & Glyn's Group. They did this collectively under the umbrella of a new company, called, aptly, The Joint Credit Card Company Limited. Lloyds, Midland and NatWest jointly owned 30% each of JCCC, with the Royal Bank of Scotland/William's & Glyn's Group owning the remaining 10%.
From a merchant point of view, Access was not widespread by the second half of 1972, as the first H. Samuel advert shows below - however, by 1973, things were changing.
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