The number of payment cards worldwide increased 8 percent in 2016 to a total of 14 billion — 1 billion of which were issued in the space of one year.
By 2022, the total count could exceed 17 billion, according to the RBR report, Global Payment Cards Data and Forecasts to 2022.
A key driver of growth is demand in Asia-Pacific — particularly in China, where financial inclusion initiatives account for the lion's share of the increase, RBR said in a press release.
The report attributes much of the recent growth to inroads made by Union Pay. The brand increased its market share to 43 percent in 2016, extending its lead over Visa and MasterCard.
In terms of sheer card numbers UnionPay has been the largest scheme globally since 2010. By the end of 2016, the payment scheme had 6 billion cards in circulation, the release said.
RBR found that UnionPay, Visa and MasterCard collectively account for 80 percent of cards worldwide.
The remaining 20 percent are travel and entertainment card schemes (American Express, Diners Club and JCB), Discover and domestic-only bank and private label cards.
Currently, UnionPay remains a largely domestic scheme, with less than 1 percent of its cards issued outside China.
However, the scheme continues to expand to new markets, and the adoption of its chip standards in six Asia-Pacific countries hints at plans by UnionPay to step up international growth.
At home in China, the scheme eventually will face greater competition, though. Visa and MasterCard are now awaiting clarification from the Chinese regulator before submitting applications to operate domestically in the country.
"UnionPay may struggle to maintain its high global share once the international schemes obtain domestic licences to operate in China," Daniel Dawson of RBR said in the release. "It will increasingly look to expand its business abroad to counteract competition in its home market."