Six percent of Lebanon's inhabitants currently possess a credit card, and demand is increasing in the face of an economic recession.
Although the nation is suffering from economic stagnation, banks both in and
out of Lebanon are examining the potential of a predominantly cash-less
HSBC Bank Middle East is the market leader in providing personal banking
products and services in Lebanon. The Bank started issuing Visa credit cards
domestically in 1994 and MasterCards in 1997. "It took off like a rocket," commented Anthony Ussher, Personal Banking Manager at HSBC in Beirut.
Credit Libanais began offering its credit card in 1999 and processes cards for several other banks. Andrew Stephens, Deputy General Manager of the Bank, said that ‘paying with plastic' was part of the modernization of the Lebanese banking sector, the Lebanon Star reported.
"The growth rate for charge cards and credit cards is very high," conveyed
Stephens. Interest rates in Lebanon are similar to those of charge cards in
Europe, hovering 1.2 and 2 percent, per month.
Bank Audi's Manager for E-banking and card services, Hatem Chaarani, said that his Bank is developing a credit card. "We have to go through a learning curve on Lebanese spending behavior," Chaarani explained. "We hope to tailor credit-assessment criteria to better suit local spending habits… many people use their card as a status symbol, rather than a payment method."
HSBC's Ussher conveyed that a substantial segment of the population is still
reluctant to adopt plastic payments. "Trying to get credit cards more widely accepted is a constant battle... there will be a pick-up in use when merchants stop resisting them."
"Merchants are slowly realizing that accepting credit cards means a greater
opportunity to sell," said Chaarani of Bank Audi. "And cash in the drawer is a risk and not producing interest. This fact hasn't been realized."
More than 8,000 retailers in Lebanon, as well as restaurants and hotels, already accept credit cards. American Express is currently declined in Lebanon, due to its higher commission rates.
Lebanon is the fourth country in the world to introduce the ‘smart card', which contains an imbedded security chip. Unlike the existing magnetic stripe cards, the smart card is virtually impossible to counterfeit.
HSBC Bank Middle East offers three kinds of Visa cards: Gold card, Classic card and an American University of Beirut affinity card (available
exclusively to American University of Beirut alumni, staff, students and their families).
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )