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the swish of plastic money

SWISH! Swish! Swish! Wondering what that gentle noise is? Credit cards. What else? Yes the swish or to be more specific, credit cards are ramming their way into mass popularity. Dhaka has certainly seen a rise in the credit card culture. And it is only expected. Times have changed and so have people's methods of using money. First money had to be carried in bundles- then to reduce the burden came checks- and now credit cards. Initially times were safe and carrying bundles of cash was pretty safe; then times changed and people resorted to check books to avoid carrying bundles for big payments; and now when there are means to work beyond the bends and seize paychecks and all, people have thought it best to carry plastic. Evolution? Certainly I say!
The credit card culture has just started in Dhaka and on a broader plateau in Bangladesh only recently. Previously only a handful of banks (mostly international banks) issued cards to selected applicants in Dhaka. Now with more and more new banks (international ones) opening up, the number of applicants for cards and the number of cards themselves have certainly risen.

Why a credit card one may ask? It's small, it's light, it's portable and of course hassle-free. One swish, one sign. That's all you need and Voila! Pronto! Maybe even Eureka! You are done. It's the whole concept of not using cash and yet buying things and making payments that draws people to plastic money. While in other counties, the Credit card culture has evolved such that all you need to memorize is the card number to pay a bill; in Dhaka it will be years before teenagers secretly tattoo the figures of their parents' cards onto their minds to sneakily buy expensive outfits and such. But one thing is for sure, credit cards are here to stay.

Banks like Standard Chartered agree that the number of Credit card applicants have risen and are increasing everyday. And the number of their Credit card holders over their eighteen-branch nationwide network has exceeded one lakh in March 2003. It is probably the growing popularity of this culture that has led Standard Chartered to have ATM vestibules in all their Dhaka branches as well as open independent ATM vestibules in busy areas like Shyamoli, Pollobi, Mirpur, Johnson road, Shankar and near the Air Force and public Service Commission office. Accordingly, the bank has resorted to providing various facilities. Now mobile phone bills and Internet bills can be paid through plastic. Even automatic bill payments are allowed. International credit cards are being issued. And for people who are too busy to go to a Standard Chartered Branch, all you have to do is call them up. They'll send a representative to your office so that you can apply for a credit card right from your own desk. The maximum limit for their card is Taka 4.5 lakhs.

Other local banks like Sonali Bank claim that they have only started the culture in a few of their main branches in Dhaka. One of the main reasons they are lagging behind is that they have a huge network (the second largest network in South-East Asia) and the system is only starting to be computerized now. Given that their influence extends beyond the major cities and goes into villages as well, a change will certainly have to be overall. Given that, computerization of all branches is first in line. Then come the credit cards. So it will be a while before they introduce credit cards nationwide.

Vanik, one of the Pioneers in Dhaka to issue credit cards without being a bank itself says that they have over fifteen thousand users and an increasing number of applicants. Although the number may seem small, given that Vanik operates locally, only in Dhaka, the number is quite outstanding. They have future plans of opening up in Chittagong so that Dhaka users can use the card there as well. Claiming to be the third institution that started providing plastic money after AMEX and Standard Chartered, Vanik which opened in 1998 now has two cards: a Silver (up to Taka 50,000) and a Gold Card (Taka 50,000 and beyond).

Credit card holders have their own reason for carrying plastic money. While some people are simply too busy to bother with handing out cash, others use it as a sort of reassurance that it does not matter that they hardly have any cash in their wallets so long as the card is in their hands. Others go a step beyond and issue multiple cards so that just in case one card exceeds its limits, other cards are there to come to the rescue.

Credit cards certainly have deeper merits. For one, adding more money to the account is a phone call away. The same goes for freezing an account. Suppose you get hijacked (an everyday happening in Dhaka) and the card is in your wallet. You can immediately call the bank and ask them to freeze the account and any transactions in the past couple of minutes. But watch out, hijackers have found an innovative way of chucking out on your credit cards. They take you at gunpoint to an ATM vestibule and ask you to draw all the money. Adios! Your money is gone. So beware!

Caution is all you require. It is often best to keep your Credit card separate from your wallet. That way the chances of the above occurring certainly become slimmer. But it is advisable that one does not become over dependent on plastic money. It might let you down in the direst of circumstances especially if you don't pay up on that over drawn account in time!

In the end, even after weighing the pros and cons, credit card facilities are certainly commendable. They certainly make it very easy for people to move about without thinking and worrying over cash. Given that, the Credit card culture is certainly approaching rapidly. So what do you say to grabbing a card?

Note: This article was written about credit cards and the culture of its usage. In doing so, we considered an overall view of credit cards and the facilities that different institutions provide. We mentioned only a select few because they were just an example of the numerous institutions present in Dhaka whom we could not mention due to limited space.

By Tahiat-E-Mahboob


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