South Africa’s ‘black card’

With the invitation-only American Express Black Centurion card for the rich and famous making headlines recently, BusinessTech decided to investigate whether similar accounts exist locally.

Talk show host and media mogul, Oprah Winfrey found herself embroiled in a spat this month, when an employee at an upscale Zurich boutique refused to show her a $38,000 handbag.

Winfrey is one of many of the top earners in the world who are holders of the legendary “black card” – a credit card offering from American Express with reportedly no credit limit.

Forbes lists Winfrey as the richest celebrity in the world, having earned $77 million in the past year.

Aside from the media blow-out painting the incident a racial issue – according to Winfrey, she was offended that the salesperson at the store “obviously” didn’t know she was a black card holder, and instead chose to deny her access to the costly item based on her appearance.

Pulling the black card

Officially called the American Express Centurion card, the “black card” (named so due to its colour) is one of the most elite and exclusive credit accounts in the world, available by invite only – and only to super rich.

The card was introduced in 1999 to customers who meet American Express’ eligibility criteria. The card started out as rumour and a myth, but American Express eventually made the legend a reality, and created an all-black titanium card to serve the needs of its super rich customers.

The card isn’t strictly a credit card, but rather a charge card – meaning there’s no minimum monthly repayment system, and the card must be paid in full at the end of the month, according to reports.

This means that there’s no pre-set spending limit – and no interest fees.

As the card is invite-only, the criteria for eligibility are open to rumour and speculation – though most reports on the card peg requirements of prospective holders at having a significant net worth; an excellent credit record; and being willing to spend around $250,000 a year.

The card also requires a $7,500 initiation fee, as well as a yearly account fee of $2,500.

For being in an exclusive club, card holders gain perks such as travel benefits in the form of airline and hotel upgrades and access to airport lounges. Then there’s a 24-hour consierge service and VIP access to exclusive events.

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South African banks

South African offerings

While most of South Africa’s financial institutions do not offer an elite credit account for their most affluent clients – it does exist.

Standard Bank

According to a spokesperson from Standard Bank, South Africa’s biggest bank does have an exclusive credit card in which customers are invited to participate in, similar to the American Express Centurion account.

However, the details, in terms of pricing and benefits are made available to customers directly, and no further information could be publicly disclosed.

Nedbank

According to head of banking products and packaging at Nedbank, Heidie Ziervogel, the green bank offers elite packages in the form of the Nedbank Private Wealth Amex Platinum Card and the Nedbank Private Wealth MasterCard World credit and Debit Card.

The cards are bundled in a monthly maintenance fee of R259 per month, for now, and are available unbundled as well, according to Ziervogel.

The Nedbank offering comes with the following benefits for wealthy clients who qualify for it:

  • Full Travel and Lifestyle Benefits
  • 24/7 Access through our dedicated Contact Suite
  • Quick turnaround times
  • Relationship with Nedbank Private Wealth Private Banker
  • Concierge Services through both affiliations
  • Travel Insurance Benefits

FNB

FNB told BusinessTech that while no elite account was offered by the bank, it did have its FNB Private Clients credit card for their wealthier customers – and a Platinum Credit Card for non-Private Banking customers who earn between R350,000 and R1.1 million per annum.

The FNB accounts don’t offer much in the way of elite privileges, however, with the same sort of rewards being offered to other credit account customers (just with higher discounts), plus the addition of access to SLOW lounges at the country’s biggest airports.

Other banks in SA

Bidvest Bank and RMB in South Africa do not offer credit cards to individuals, with a bigger focus on business accounts.

Investec and Absa did not return enquiries by time of publishing.

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South Africa’s ‘black card’