ECONOMY

Standing orders shunned

The payment habits of Greek consumers contrast sharply from those in the rest of Western Europe. A vast majority still shy away from the benefits of standing orders at the bank for the payment of common household bills, instead using plastic money as a means of borrowing instead of payment and preferring credit to debit cards. The available statistical data show that only 8 percent of bank clients make use of standing orders, even though these often carry no surcharge, in contrast to payments made at the bank counter. Nevertheless, the trend is changing; those using standing orders represented under 3 percent a few years ago. In general, the annual incidence of non-cash payments (remittances, checks) per inhabitant in Greece is especially low, just 10 against an EU average of 150, according to recent data from the European Central Bank. Leonidas Kasoumis, president of Visa Hellas, says credit cards account for 90 percent of the turnover of Visa cards in Greece while debit cards comprise the rest. Between October 2004 and October 2005, transactions with Visa cards totaled 4.1 billion euros, of which 3.8 billion was with credit cards. In the rest of Europe, by contrast, debit cards account for an estimated 65 percent of plastic money turnover. Following the liberalization of consumer credit in recent years, credit card balances have been growing at a much slower pace, from 33 percent in 2002 to 12 percent last year. The obvious explanation is that borrowers are turning to personal and consumer loans from credit cards. Kasoumis believes that the low use of debit cards in Greece is due to the fact that their owners are often unaware that they can use them with direct debiting of their bank accounts, without interest and annual subscription costs. Most debit cards are used only as cash cards in ATMs but their use for purchases has been spreading in recent years.