A Tale of Two Mastercards

In 2016, Walmart Canada announced that they would no longer accept Visa credit cards, but would continue to accept Mastercard. I thought that I was in good shape as I had an AMA Mastercard to replace my RBC Target REDcard that died with Target Canada.

A short time later AMA announced that National Bank was taking over their Mastercard from a small commercial bank in Calgary. I was actually relieved as I had dealt with National Bank Financial for investing a decade earlier, and preferred a local presence.

The new National Bank cards arrived in the mail, along with instructions telling me that, unlike other credit cards, first use would activate the cards. The closest bank to my home that has a Mastercard is BMO, so I went to their ATM and tried to change my PIN as my first use, which would activate the card. I got an error message telling me to phone the credit card’s call centre. And assumed that I had waited too long before using the card, and it had been automatically deactivated.

With that idea in mind, I phoned the call centre and spent the next 45 minutes on the phone, trying to get the cards reactivated. Turns out the cards were still active, but the PIN could only be changed in a National Bank branch.  There are exactly two in Edmonton, both Downtown. I certainly wasn’t going to spend a couple of hours, and a lot of money on gas and parking, to do that.

Instead, I upgraded my hbc (Hudson’s Bay) credit card to an hbc Mastercard. Although I’ve never been a fan of U.S. banks operating in Canada, I have been amazed at the difference in the Customer Experience between National Bank and Citibank, who currently provides hbc credit cards.

Citibank sent me a six digit security code by both e-mail and postal mail. I was able to both activate my new cards and set my PIN by entering that code and some other information on my touch tone phone, without even talking to anyone.

The only hitch was when I applied for the cards on-line. An error message told me that I already had an hbc credit card, but gave me no clue how to upgrade. So, I phoned the call centre and someone cancelled my old cards, which allowed me to apply on-line for the new Mastercard ones.

My first credit card was a BMO MasterCharge, the predecessor to Mastercard, which I applied for in 1976 when I bought my first car. Having rented a pickup truck for 24 hours to move from a high rise apartment to a basement suite, it was becoming clear to me that credit cards were becoming a necessity; it took a lot of talking and a sizable cash deposit to get the truck without a credit card.

Not long after, when I discovered that some Canadian retailers only accepted Visa, I also got a Visa credit card. In 1980, at a conference in Toronto, I was glad I had two credit cards, as one stopped working and took several days to fix.

Since then, I have always had two different credit cards from two different banks. It has paid off, even in Edmonton, on the few occasions when one of my credit cards has been declined because of bank security automated alarms or a retailer I frequent being hacked.