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Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Some prefer cash to cards in Europe

RESISTANCE TO CHANGE Despite the proliferation of technology to help people pay for things, many Europeans, particularly the Germans, can still only trust cash


Europeans are learning to use and like credit cards.

But consumer payment habits vary widely across Europe. For example Germans like to pay in cash, a preference that was the main reason for the creation of the 500-euro banknote.

Germans continue to like cash because German culture distrusted other forms of payments in the years following the economic crisis and inflation in the 1930s, and also because banks charge for the use of checks. However, Germans also use direct bank transfers.

The Swedes are likewise reticent about using credit cards, which seems strange in a country closely connected to advanced technology.

The French by contrast have been particularly attached to their check books, partly because conventions keep checks free in France.

It is common for lines at French supermarket payment counters to be held up while customers write checks, even though France was the first country to introduce technology dealing with one of the main reasons for reluctance to use cards -- fear of fraud

For more than a decade credit cards in France have been equipped with microchips and retail outlets have used decoders relying on a customer's secret identification number and not on an easily forged signature.

The so-called "smart card" was invented by Frenchman Roland Moreno about 30 years ago.

Fraud figures for last year are expected to show that fraud concerning French cards used in France fell to 69 million euros (US$89 million) from 75 million euros in 2002, but that fraud with French cards abroad surged to 79 million euros from 45 million euros in 2002.

Introduction of the euro and of Internet trading has further encouraged use of credit cards.

The adoption by 2006 of an international standard for so-called "smart cards" by all European countries, along with many in Latin America and Asia, is also expected to reassure users.

In France credit card transactions involving more than one bank totalled 3.66 billion last year, exceeding the number of checks used, 3.46 billion, for the first time.

In 2000, the French wrote 70 percent of all checks written in Europe. In 2001 they accounted for 51 percent of 8.4 billion checks. The British came second, writing 2.5 billion checks. The Germans wrote 319 million checks.

The number of overall card transactions in Europe rose in 2002. Those involving debit cards, which have no credit facility, were up by 9.2 percent, while credit card transactions increased by 5.6 percent.

The Greeks also like to use cash, they shun checks but are turning to bank cards. The number of transactions rose by 25.5 percent last year, having risen by 33.1 percent in 2002, 62.7 percent in 2001 and 49.5 percent in 2000.

In Portugal the use of cash fell to 3.6 percent of GDP in 2001 from 6.8 percent in 1989, and the check is going out of fashion. Checks were used for 81 percent of payments in 1989 but for only 27 percent in 2001.

The Spanish pay with cash or plastic. The number of cash distributors in Spain rose from 41,129 in 1999 to 51,762 in 2002 and the number of cards in use rose by 35 percent to 55.92 million.

Checks are rare because shopkeepers dislike handling them.

In northern Europe, the British and Danes have taken to plastic cards, but the Swedes and Finns like to order their bank to make direct payments.

Since 1983 Danes have been able to use a standard credit card system which has boosted card usage. In any case, Danes did not have much use for checks.

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