Without credit

The use of electronic payment cards in Lebanon and the region has grown rapidly in the past four years, according to statistics by Visa Card International. But with few exceptions, Middle Eastern markets remain debit card markets. Data provided by Visa International for the region in the period from March 1999 until March 2003 show a doubling and even a tripling in the number of payment cards issued, transaction volume and transaction value. Lebanon, which showed increases in total transaction volume of 832% over the four years (and 58% for the year ending March 31, 2003), was the second highest gainer. In terms of cards issued, the numbers quintupled in Lebanon during the past four years to about 331,000, an increase far exceeding the region-wide average growth rate of 134 percent for the same period. Only Jordan and Oman led Lebanon in the growth rates of numbers of cards issued and transaction value.

Although the network of outlets accepting cards grew by under 25% in terms of a regional average over the four years, expenditures of cardholders in Middle Eastern transactions developed healthily. In Lebanon, where the number of outlets accepting Visa cards grew from 7,700 in 1999 to 10,700 in 2003, retail card expenditures more than tripled from $62 million to reach $194 million in retail sales value, suggesting that participating merchants benefited well from their card facilities.

While electronic payment cards are advancing, the Visa International data does not show significant progress in the region