Cherry Cheng has 12 bank cards. But she wishes she did not have to.
"I hate to have this many cards. It is so inconvenient. But I have to. Each card has its own unique function," said Cheng, a manager at a Beijing-based securities company.
To attract more deposits, Chinese banks have developed many cards with special functions in addition to the traditional payment function.
These other functions include salary payment and public utilities payments.
But the card systems at different banks -- or of different branches of the same bank -- are not compatible with one another.
For example, holders of cards of the Bank of China cannot draw cash from the machines of the China Construction Bank. It is common that a department store has three or four different POS (point of payment) machines for the respective banks.
And cards issued by a particular branch of a bank are often not acceptable in another branch of the same bank.
This all means Cheng and her fellow Chinese card holders have to have dozens of cards.
The People's Bank of China, which oversees the bank industry, is determined to tackle the problem.
The central bank will work out a unified standard for the bank card industry, Governor Dai Xianglong said Friday at a conference for officials and executives from the electronic banking sector.
The central bank also plans to integrate the bank card system of all the banks in 300 major Chinese cities in three years, Dai said.
Although Chinese banks have issued 277 million cards since the first Chinese bank card made its debut in 1985, the efficiency of the card system is still incredibly low, bank officials said.
For example, in the last quarter of 2000, only 3 percent of China's retail sales transactions were paid for by bank cards.
The real pressure for the improvement of the bank industry is from the looming competition caused by foreign rivals.
Under the contract China signed with its trade partners for the country's accession into the World Trade Organization, China has to fully open up its banking business to foreign banks five years after joining the trade body.
Technology experts say the plan to integrate all the card systems is feasible.
But China's lack of a credit record system will hinder the development of the card business.
Most Chinese bank cards for payment are debit cards. Only a very small proportion are real credit cards. And it is very complicated to open a credit card account.
(China Daily 02/17/2001)