CL plans to be first with ‘smart cards’

Credit Libanais plans to become the first Arab bank to introduce smart cards this year as part of expansion plans heavily focused on technology.

“We are to be among a group of local banks marketing this new instrument, essentially a computer in your pocket, that helps reach the biggest group of people while controlling their services profile and spreading our risk,” said Joseph Torbey, the Libanais chairman on Thursday.

Smart cards are small plastic cards with a computer chip that stores much more data than magnetic strips. They can replace cash once supporting technology is in place.

Instead of wallets stuffed with many cards, each limited to a single function, consumers get one piece of plastic.

Visa, the credit card group with whom Libanais has teamed, estimates smart cards will be one third of its card volume by 2002.

“We want to show that banking is no longer a privilege in Lebanon and reach the 65 percent of adults who don’t have banking services,” Torbey said.

His bank settles payments for all Lebanese-issued Visa credit cards and holds the franchise for Diners Club credit cards in Lebanon and Jordan.

“Fees and commissions make up 38 percent of Libanais income, about double the average in the sector,” said Torbey.

“Incomes have improved even when taking into account the current economic contraction. We’ll continue to concentrate on consumer lending and technology-based products,” he said.

Credit Libanais’ loans rose 27 percent to $296 million in 1998. Torbey forecast that lending would increase a similar amount this year.

Lebanon’s Banks Association decision earlier this month to cap yields on deposits and cut the prime dollar interest rate by 1 percentage point to 9 percent would also accelerate lending. - Reuters





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