Chinese banks had issued more than 1.3 billion debit, credit and semi-credit cards by the end of September, roughly one for every person in China, according to China UnionPay.
Bank card consumption as a percentage of China's total retail sales exceeded 18 percent in the first nine months as more Chinese opt for cards over cash, China UnionPay President Xu Luode told a forum on local finance.
China had 183 banks issuing cards that could be used at 1.08 million points of sale of 650,000 specially endorsed outlets and 120,000 automatic teller machines.
But the bank card market is dominated by large national banks as regional financial institutions controlled just nine percent of the market with 190 million bank cards issued over the first half of this year.
A survey released by the Nielsen Company on Saturday showed the use of bank cards was spreading quickly and reshaping the shopping habits of the Chinese although cash remained the main form of payment.
The report, based on 11,500 Chinese consumers in 18 cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenzhen and Shenyang, revealed that urban card holders were gradually adopting Western consumption habits of using cards not only for shopping, but also cash withdrawals and even installment payments.
China UnionPay, the country's only bank card network operator, planned to complete its national payment network next year by setting up branches in northwestern Xinjiang Uygur and Ningxia Huiautonomous regions as well as Gansu and Qinghai provinces that are less developed compared with the eastern coastal areas.
(Xinhua News Agency November 7, 2007)