Alternative Card Network (ACN)

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Traditional card networks, like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover, act as intermediaries to facilitate transactions between merchants and banks. These networks handle the authorization, clearing, and settlement of transactions. They've dominated the payment landscape for several decades and have a broad global reach.

An alternative card network carries payment messaging (or payment instructions) across a communications network (for example, an IP-based network) for authorization, clearing and settlement processes, and has its own scheme (arrangements among participating entities, such as issuers, acquirers, processors and operators of the payment system network). [1]

Alternative card networks (ACNs) can come in various forms:

  1. Cryptocurrency Networks: These are decentralized networks that use blockchain technology for transactions. Bitcoin, Ethereum, and others offer a completely different way of transferring value. Cryptocurrencies eliminate the need for a central authority, and transactions are secured using cryptographic algorithms.
  2. Digital Wallets: Examples include Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay. These platforms provide a digital version of a physical wallet and store card details securely. They make transactions quicker and easier, particularly for mobile and contactless payments.
  3. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Payment Systems: Services like Venmo, Zelle, and PayPal facilitate direct transfers between individuals. These platforms have grown in popularity due to their convenience for splitting bills, paying friends, or conducting online commerce.
  4. Direct Debit Networks: These allow businesses to take payments directly from a customer's bank account, bypassing the card networks. Examples include ACH payments in the U.S.

ACNs can offer a variety of benefits, including lower transaction fees, quicker settlement times, and increased privacy. They can also provide more inclusive access to financial services, particularly for people in countries with underdeveloped financial infrastructures.

However, ACNs also face challenges. These include regulatory scrutiny, scalability issues, volatility (in the case of cryptocurrencies), security concerns, and a lack of universal acceptance. As with any financial decision, businesses and individuals should carefully weigh the pros and cons before opting to use an ACN over a traditional card network.


  1. What is an Alternative Card Network Gartner