BUSINESS

Rise in card transactions set to reach 40 percent this year

EVGENIA TZORTZI

TAGS: Economy

The credit and debit card market will grow at an annual rate of 40 percent this year, following on from the expansion trend recorded in the second half of 2015, after the government imposed the capital controls. Bank estimates put the plastic money turnover at 13 billion euros in 2016, against 9.2 billion in 2015, the majority of which was in the latter half of the year.

Although the growth rate will be smaller than the doubling (or more) of the turnover in the second half of 2015, banks view this development as particularly positive, saying that it should be used for the further strengthening of electronic payments.

The same estimates attribute 60 percent of the 13-billion-euro electronic turnover this year to debit cards, which also signals a more sensible approach toward the use of plastic money, as households avoid exposure to credit cards and debt.

At the same time, payment terminals in the Greek market are estimated at just 220,000, in spite of the rise in demand generated by the capital controls imposed on June 28, 2015, as they just about cover half of commercial stores. The Finance Ministry’s calculations put the number of card terminals needed for satisfactory geographical coverage across the main categories of small commercial enterprises and professionals at 450,000-500,000, a target that appears prohibitive for 2016.

On the other hand, consumers have acquired huge numbers of debit cards since the capital controls came into force, taking them to a total of 10.7 million at the end of 2015, which roughly amounts to one for each inhabitant in Greece. This is the opposite trend to that of credit cards, which under the burden of the growing nonperforming loans in the sector during the crisis and due to the reduction in the number of banks in Greece have shrunk from 6 million in 2009 to 3.1 million in 2014 and to 2.5 million in 2015.

The shortfall in card terminals is the main reason for the low penetration of electronic transactions, though that varies considerably among commercial activities: For example, supermarkets have seen a penetration rate of 35 percent (from 15 percent before the capital controls), while small food stores report just a 5 percent rate.

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