The number of cards in the hands of consumers in the Middle East and Africa increased 13 percent in 2015, making it the world's fastest growing region, according to Global Payment Cards Data and Forecasts to 2021,a new report from RBR.
RBR forecasts that the number of cards in the region will rise from to 611 million at the end of 2015 to 910 million by the end of 2021.
By far the largest payment cards market in the region is Iran, where all payment cards are domestic-only, as a result of international sanctions.
The study shows that domestic schemes are also present in Israel, Morocco, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Domestic scheme cards are sometimes favored because of their lower issuing costs, RBR said.
MasterCard and Visa make up a large and growing share of the remaining cards in the region outside of Iran. The report shows that the two companies have made notable gains in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia — through both organic growth and agreements for their brands to be added to domestic scheme cards so that cardholders may use them outside the country of issuance.
Cards featuring both a domestic and international brand were most recently launched in Saudi Arabia, where "mada" debit cards were introduced by the Saudi Payment Network in 2015.
"International schemes are using various strategies to take advantage of the fast growth in the Middle East and Africa and they will continue to increase their share in most markets," said Chris Herbert of RBR. "Nevertheless, ongoing sanctions against Iran mean that domestic schemes are likely to be the only cards present in that country for the short term at least."