Rakuten is furthering its international reach by partnering with First National Bank of Omaha to launch its first credit card in the US. The initiative is the first banking move that the company has made outside of its native Japan, where — aside from being the dominant e-commerce player — it counts financial services among its other businesses.
The company — which recorded over $5 billion in revenue during 2013 — says that the Rakuten Rewards MasterCard, as the US card will be called, is part of a “global growth strategy” to expand its Japanese banking service worldwide, though, at this point, there are no details of other launches that are planned.
As is the case in Japan, US-based holders of the Rakuten can earn points for the Rakuten Super Points initiative by shopping on the US-version of Rakuten.com, and other websites. The company points out that the expansion of its loyalty scheme to the US is another first outside of Japan. Those interested in applying for the card can do so from Rakuten.com.
This launch comes somewhat out of the blue, since Rakuten — the brand — doesn’t enjoy a mainstream profile in the US market, despite having acquired Buy.com back in 20120 and rebranding it to ‘Rakuten Shopping’ last year. Conventional logic might dictate that a company would need a significant retail presence in order to have a shot at launching a successful banking service, but Rakuten appears to be betting that financial incentives can broaden the appeal of its business to new customers — as well as increasing loyalty among existing customers.
Despite its success in Japan, its financial business is starting from scratch in the US, and it will be interesting to see how this develops Stateside, not to mention which regions that the initiative rolls out to next.
Rakuten has major e-commerce plans, which will include content from Viki — the video startup it acquired for $200 million in 2013 — and chat app Viber, which it picked up for $900 million earlier this year, and its clear that globalizing its loyalty scheme and payment options is a part of that.
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