Virtual card vs. physical card: a comprehensive guide for businesses

Virtual card vs. physical card: a comprehensive guide for businesses

Most people with bank accounts will undoubtedly want a card as well. After all, debit and credit cards allow for quick payments in most parts of the world and online. 

However, when selecting a card, you may wonder which option is better – physical or virtual.  

Genome is here to help you clear things up. In this article, we describe the difference between virtual and physical debit cards and explain various types of cards in general. 

What is a virtual card? 

It is all in the name, really! A virtual card is a payment card that banks and financial institutions issue. However, unlike physical (plastic) cards, virtual cards exist entirely in a digital form. 

All you have of them is the card number, expiry date, and CVV, which are usually stored inside the customer’s banking app or personal cabinet on the bank’s website.

Note that some of the virtual cards are single-use use, which means that the clients can only make one payment. Single-use virtual cards are linked to separate customer accounts that are annulled once the payment is made. 

However, this article focuses more on regular virtual cards, which are akin to their physical counterparts in many ways. People generally need virtual cards for online payments. Some cards are NFC-compatible, meaning they can be used contactless in stores.  

Types of virtual and physical debit cards

Physical and virtual cards serve various purposes and share much in common despite differences. Before selecting the card, it is better to understand modern banking cards.

Types of physical cards

The name speaks for itself – these are traditional plastic cards issued by financial institutions during the last decades. Nowadays, such cards have a lot of variety as the banks try to cater to customers’ needs. 

There are two major categories – debit and credit cards. A debit card allows you to make purchases and withdraw cash using your money, while a credit card provides a line of credit from your financial institution. 

However, today, there is a great variety of card products specifically designed for customers, for example:

Prepaid cards. Such cards contain a specific amount of money preloaded to the card. The prepaid card is not linked to a bank account and can be topped up via the ATM or online apps. The card can be used until funds that were preloaded onto it run out. 

ATM cards. The ATM cards are issued by financial institutions to specifically work with Automated Teller Machines. For instance, you can use such a card to withdraw cash.

Gift cards. These are separate prepaid cards for payments at certain retailers or online stores. 

Travel cards. As you might have guessed from their name, such cards are designed for travelers. They allow you to load multiple foreign currencies and purchase abroad without currency conversion fees.

Charge cards. Like credit cards, charge cards require you to pay the full balance each month, with no option for revolving credit.

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Types of virtual cards

As we stated before, virtual cards don’t have physical carriers. They are a virtual version of a traditional plastic card with mostly the same functions.

For instance, just as physical cards, they have a CVC, expiry date, PIN code, and 16-digit number. However, all this information is stored inside your online account. 

As with their plastic counterparts, virtual cards can be divided into debit and credit virtual cards. The main difference here is that they usually offer online payment capabilities or contactless payments. 

Virtual prepaid cards. This type of card can be issued online and used for internet transactions. The main benefit is that they are not linked to a physical card or the owners’ bank account and can be discarded after use.

Virtual gift cards. Also known as e-gift cards, they are digital versions of physical gift cards. In addition to being more secure, they can be sent via email or SMS and used for online or in-store purchases.

Virtual travel cards. Such a card is handy if you are anxious about losing a physical card while traveling. This card works alongside or instead of a physical one, allowing you to manage your travel expenses online.

Difference between virtual cards and physical cards

Now that we have defined virtual cards and described the types of virtual and plastic cards let’s compare the two! 

Note that the table compares physical cards to regular, not single-use virtual cards. 

Physical card vs. virtual card: comparison table

Points of comparisonVirtual cardsPhysical cards
Overall design/formA virtual card exists only in a digital form. Some financial providers, like Genome, have the complete virtual card design for their clients inside the platform. Other financial providers may just provide a card number, CVV, and expiry date for the card.Such cards are usually made of plastic, although some companies can offer alternatives made of wood or metal. All the card details and the logo of a card issuer (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, etc.) are printed on it.
Order processYou apply for a virtual card, and this usually happens online. Soon after, the card will be available to use with details stored in your banking app.You can order a physical card online or at a bank branch. Some time will pass before the card is issued/delivered to you.
The payment processVirtual cards are most commonly used for online payments. Some virtual cards are also contactless.Most physical cards can be used for all types of payments: online, in-store, and contactless.
SecurityBecause it exists entirely online, a virtual card can’t be lost or stolen.Physical cards are mostly secure but can be lost or stolen. Also, owners of plastic cards can become victims of ATM skimming fraud.
FeaturesOnline and (sometimes) contactless payments, money transfers, transaction tracking, and reports. ATM withdrawals are limited; only a handful of ATMs can work with virtual cards. To withdraw money, you need your virtual card to be linked to your NFC-enabled device and a specialized ATM.Online, in-store, and contactless payments, money transfers, ATM withdrawals, transaction tracking, and reports.

Order physical and virtual debit cards inside Genome

Whether you need a physical or a virtual card – Genome can offer you both and more! You can apply for a personal or business wallet right now – all the onboarding procedures are carried out online with minimum documentation required. 

Once your personal/business wallet is up and running, you can order physical and virtual debit cards. To do so:

  1. Go to the Cards section from your dashboard;
  2. If you use the desktop version, click on the plus sign next to the Genome cards section. Scroll right and press the Add card option if you use the app.
  3. Choose a card type you want – a physical or a virtual card.
  4. Link the preferred account to the card and confirm your details.
  5. That’s it! A virtual card will be available to use right away, and we will deliver a physical card to any place in the EU. 

Our virtual debit cards can be used for online payments and are contactless (Google Pay, Apple Pay, and Garmin Pay compatible).

Our business wallet users can issue multiple cards for corporate expenses and media buying. Genome has recently updated the prices for corporate virtual card activation – our clients can now get the first 100 cards for just 1 EUR/card!

Find out all about Genome’s debit Visa cards and other services on our website!

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What is the difference between a virtual card and a physical card?

Genome’s team pointed out the main similarities and differences between physical and virtual cards in the virtual card vs. physical card table above. The key difference is in their form, as virtual cards don’t have a physical carrier. This somewhat limits virtual cards regarding in-store payments unless they are contactless. 

What is a physical debit card?

It is a regular bank card issued by most financial institutions. It can be used for payments and money withdrawals. The card is linked to a client’s bank account, and the client uses their funds to pay. 

How do you generate a virtual debit card?

To do so, you need to find a bank or payment service provider that offers such a feature. For instance, Genome! With us, generating virtual debit cards takes seconds. You can get multiple cards for both your personal and corporate needs.