Thursday, December 25, 2003

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Christmas and capitalism in Eastern Europe

To end the Christmas day blogging on some good news:

The Chicago Tribune has a fascinating story on the extension of credit cards into Central and Eastern Europe -- just in time for holiday shopping! The interesting parts:

During the communist era, Christmas in Budapest was a low-key affair, often celebrated clandestinely.

But as Hungary and other former East Bloc countries move closer to the European Union, the Christmas season has become a time of jampacked shopping malls and frenzied spending....

A decade ago, no one in Hungary had credit cards. These days, it seems everyone's wallet is bulging with plastic. Among a population of 10 million people, there are now close to 6 million credit and debit cards in use.

The pattern is similar across Eastern Europe. Poland, with a population of 38 million, went from zero cards a decade ago to more than 13 million last year.

"For young people, it all seems very natural and normal. But the evolution of the economy over the last 10 years--the speed was double that of Western Europe after the last world war," said Janos Lendvai, CEO of Magyar Cetelem, a French-owned bank that is Hungary's market leader in consumer credit.

These countries are not only playing catch-up to Western Europe, however. In some areas of the protection of credit, they're innovating:

The biggest obstacle credit card marketers had to overcome in Hungary was fear of fraud. But consumer concerns about the safety of their cards have led to an important security innovation made possible by the explosive growth of mobile phones in Hungary.

Each time a card is used, the cardholder immediately gets a text message on his or her cell phone confirming the transaction and notifying the cardholder of the balance. Initially developed in Hungary, the messaging system is used widely in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is now being introduced in Western Europe.

Developing... in a good way.

Merry Christmas to all!!

posted by Dan on 12.25.03 at 11:19 AM


Of course, not everyone in Eastern Europe is wild about this new phenomenon:

Labor unions in the Czech Republic demanded Monday that stores stop playing Christmas carols incessantly or pay compensation for causing emotional trauma to sales clerks.

I always wondered how those retail people stand it...

posted by: E. Nough on 12.25.03 at 11:19 AM [permalink]

I'm pretty sure that something like 80-90% of the cards are, like my Slovak PostBank MasterCard, Debit cards. The money has to be there, and gets moved out immediately upon authorization at check out.

Virtually no unpaid balances. Easy credit card company money. Plus fees!

A huge investment in shopping malls has been going on, too -- with the "supermarkets" being bypassed by direct building of hypermarkets. Unfortunately, this leaves little room for big Macy's style shops, at least so far. Either small boutiques or hypers, for clothes especially.

posted by: Tom Grey on 12.25.03 at 11:19 AM [permalink]

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