“The Future”.

It’s a broad, vague term that’s as annoying as it is enigmatic. What exactly is the future, and what does it mean to embrace the future while simultaneously living in the present?

For purposes of this article, let’s say that the future of banking and consumer branding is the race to figure out new marketing technologies; social media, smart phone apps, and an improved (and instantaneous) user experience. Hmmm… the future sort of sounds like the present, doesn’t it?

When it comes to big-time credit card issuers, branding their products as forward-thinking while producing newer, better ways to serve its customers has turned from a marathon to a dead-sprint, only the finish line hasn’t moved. (Let’s face it – there isn’t a finish line.)

So who’s in the lead when it comes to which credit card companies have embraced the future of spending and led rather than followed in 21st century banking? Let’s consider a few categories.

Mobile Banking

By now, all credit card companies use mobile banking. That said, some issuers had a jump on others. According to BankRate.com, both Discover and Bank of America have offered easy-to-use mobile banking interfaces for smart phone users for years, giving them the edge when it came to attracting tech-savvy consumers willing to work out the early kinks (and possible risks) of mobile banking. It should be noted that both issuers – Discover and Bank of America – offered liability protection for mobile bankers, same as if they were banking by desktop computer or over the phone.

With tablets and smart phones churning out excellent new banking apps seemingly one-after-the-other, it’s easy to forget that just a few years ago mobile banking was the exception rather than the norm. And yet, Western Union is still a thing…

Tech-Savvy Cards

Speaking of the shortfalls of physically wiring money, tech-friendly cards have introduced new ways of sending money between accounts or to family members and friends. For example, American Express® Serve (a prepaid card at that) allows cardholders to send money via e-mail, text message and even Facebook. A self-described “Digital Prepaid Account“, Serve is as serviceable an alternative to a checking account out there today. Set up direct deposit, swipe it wherever American Express is accepted, and use this prepaid card like you would any debit or credit card.

Chip and PIN Security

American Express has also made strides as an American leader in Chip and PIN technology. Chip and PIN is common abroad, but credit cards domestically have only recently gotten around to instituting the technology stateside. The American Express Platinum Card offers chip and PIN for free by request, which essentially provides another layer of security to your card since the PIN step of Chip and PIN is essentially identical to what is required when we pay with our debit cards. The chip part replaces the magnetic stripe found on current cards with a microchip within the card, and eliminates the issue of “credit card scraping” that has led to numerous instances of identity fraud over the last few years.

The technology isn’t available for all AmEx products (or even most), and it’s worth mentioning that both Chase and Citi have introduced the technology to select travel cards domestically. Look for more and more credit cards to begin issuing Chip and PIN credit cards in the coming months and years.

Social Media

Finally, you can’t run a successful marketing campaign anymore without social media. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram have all been embraced by major credit card issuers, with varying degrees of success.

A quick survey of the major issuers’ Facebook pages tells us that Capital One actually has the most Facebook likes (nearly 3 million) with American Express a close second, though you have to like what Chase did by separating that Facebook pages by card. Obviously, the number of Facebook likes a company has doesn’t exactly translate into a successful business, but in the case of credit card companies you could assume that at least a majority of the likes are from actual cardholders.

It’s a different story on Twitter, where American Express easily dominates the competition with 6x the amount of followers of any another major issuer. Again, followers doesn’t necessarily mean business, but it’s likely that the VIP perks associated with AmEx – especially their pre-sale ticket privileges – provide members with more of an incentive to follow them on Twitter.

The Bottom Line

It’s hard to say what the next major breakthrough in banking will be; weren’t we supposed to have hologram cards by now? But with the competition as tight and the demand for a tech-friendly credit card experience never greater, you can be sure that the future of banking is bright. (And yes, we mean holograms. We can dream, right?)