The use of debit and credit cards over the festive season rose to record levels, illustrating the growing prevalence of online transactions in everyday life – as well as the fragility of the system, which suffered significant glitches.
According to bank data for the week leading up to Christmas (December 18-24), card transactions showed an 80 percent increase from the same period in 2016 and a 60 percent rise from the previous week (December 11-17).
The increase in plastic money payments this Christmas comes on top of a significant rise in 2016 and is attributed to a great extent to the forced adjustment of Greek consumers to the conditions created by capital controls imposed by the government two-and-a-half years ago.
The spike in card transactions combined with certain technical failures resulted in serious malfunctions, particularly with cards issued by the National Bank of Greece. Rejections and delays in the completion of transactions were recorded in other banks’ cards also, such as those of Piraeus Bank. Credit sector sources said that the online system worked on all days and there was not a single moment when an universal problem prevented the processing of payments.
Problems aside, the data point to consumers increasingly using their cards to pay even for small purchases, a practice that is expected to strengthen further in the coming years. Banks are actively promoting the contactless card payments for transactions up to 25 euros and payment via smartphone.
The latest available data, up to end-September 2017, show that debit cards came to 12.5 million, up from 11.5 million a year earlier, and card terminals almost doubled within two years, from 300,000 in September 2015 to 540,000 in September 2017.