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Traditional Physical Cards v Digital Prepaid Mastercards

~7min reading time
On the left: person stressed looking for cards in his wallet. On the right: person paying with a CleverCard digital Mastercard

While traditional physical cards may seem like a familiar and reliable tool for employee benefits and rewards, their convenience often masks a hidden reality fraught with challenges that extend beyond their intended use. From the mountains of plastic waste they generate to the toxic chemicals involved in their production, physical cards carry a burden that includes environmental, health, and even financial concerns.

But the issues don't stop there. The logistical complexities of ordering, distributing, and replacing physical cards can drain HR department’s resources and time. Not to mention the risk of loss or theft, coupled with the inconvenience of carrying and managing multiple cards, further adds to the hidden costs associated with traditional physical cards.

In this article, we delve into the stark differences between traditional physical cards and digital payment solutions, exploring the benefits, drawbacks, and practical implications for HR managers and small business owners. We'll also examine why digital prepaid Mastercards are gaining traction as the go-to solution for employee benefits, and how this transition aligns with broader trends in digital HR tools and sustainable business practices.

The Hidden Costs of Traditional Physical Cards

Plastic Waste

A shocking 26 billion plastic cards are in circulation globally, generating 5.7 million tonnes of waste annually. Each card can take up to 500 years to decompose, contributing to overflowing landfills and toxic pollution.

Toxic Chemicals

The production of PVC-based cards involves harmful chemicals like vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen linked to various cancers and health issues.

Time-Consuming HR Tasks

Traditional, paper-based processes for managing employee benefits can be incredibly time-consuming. HR managers often find themselves drowning in administrative tasks, from manually processing forms, handling paperwork and posting out physical plastic cards to employees.

Delays in Card Distribution

Posting out physical cards to employees often results in delays stretching from weeks to months. As a result, frustrated employees experience prolonged waiting times for benefits, rewards, and gifts. These delays often lower employee morale; the exact opposite of the intended purpose of benefits cards.

Inefficiency and Risk

Employees frequently misplace physical cards, leading to disruptions in accessing benefits, payouts and rewards. Lost cards also require re-issuance, further adding to administrative overhead costs and employee dissatisfaction.

Global Reach and Complexity

In today’s global workforce, mailing physical cards internationally adds complexity, cost, and time. Digital solutions overcome geographical boundaries, ensuring instant access to benefits for all employees, regardless of their location.

The Benefits of Switching to Digital Prepaid Mastercards

Environmental Responsibility

Eliminating plastic waste and reducing carbon emissions aligns with growing consumer demand for sustainable business practices. In Ireland, 79% of people are worried about climate change, and 49% prefer buying from companies prioritising environmental sustainability.

Employee Satisfaction

Research shows that employees prefer digital gift cards as rewards, offering flexibility and convenience. In fact, the IRF found that remote and hybrid workers ranked digital prepaid gift cards as their number one reward choice.


The market for gift cards in Ireland is expanding rapidly as a result of the Small Benefit Exemption scheme enabling employers to give all employees up to €1,000 per annum, free from taxes to both the employer and employee. With a market size approaching €800m, on average, spending on gift cards in Ireland is up to 66% more per person than the European average!

Streamlined Processes

As well as being tax-free, adopting digital payments eliminates the need for finance or HR managers to spend hours upon hours ordering and distributing physical cards. This is particularly impactful for medium to large-sized companies or those with remote employees, ensuring instant, online distribution of rewards and gifts. Digital Mastercards also offer greater security and control, as they can be easily managed and monitored from an online portal.

Global Spending

One of the biggest reasons why employees are loving digital prepaid Mastercards so much these days is because they can be spent literally anywhere in the world that accepts digital payments. They can also be easily added to Apple/Google mobile wallets meaning there are no tap limits.

CleverCards: The Digital Solution for Employee Benefits

CleverCards digital prepaid Mastercards provide a comprehensive solution for employee benefits, rewards, and expenses.

Here’s how:

  • Instant Issuance: Cards can be issued instantly via email, eliminating delays and administrative burdens.
  • Global Acceptance: Accepted at over 65 million locations worldwide and compatible with Apple Pay and Google Pay.
  • Customisable Controls: Set spending limits, track expenses in real-time, and automate reporting for better financial control.

It’s Time to Switch to Digital Payments

As businesses strive for efficiency, sustainability, and employee satisfaction, it becomes imperative to examine the hidden costs of traditional physical cards and explore alternative solutions that offer a safer, digital-first approach to employee benefits. The transition to digital prepaid Mastercards is not just a technological upgrade; it's a strategic decision that aligns your business with environmental responsibility, employee satisfaction, and operational efficiency.

Don't get left behind in the digital payments revolution. Contact the CleverCards team today to learn how digital prepaid Mastercards can transform your employee benefits and contribute to a greener, more efficient workplace.