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The limitations on credit availability from banks in light of the July 1 overdraft reforms may have given the credit card industry the boost it needed as consumers seek alternative means to address their needs.
"We saw an increase in the last month of customers calling us instead of our calling them," said Tomer Rubenshtein, marketing and product development manager at Leumi Card. "I think the increase will continue in the next few months as customers become more affected by the new rules where an unexpected increase in spending would bring them outside of the credit line provided by the bank."
Rubenshtein said the cards were being sought as a backup means of obtaining credit.
"Whereas before people knew that no matter what they spent their bank would approve it, today this not the case so you need to have a backup and people are approaching the credit card companies to provide for this," he said.
The concept of obtaining "revolving credit," or credit outside of the banking framework, is a relatively new one in Israel after Leumi card launched the first such facility with its "multi card" in October 2004. It has since welcomed 50,000 customers and two direct competitors in "Cal Active" and most recently Isracard's "More" card. All of these cards allow for repayment on a gradual basis rather than requiring payment in full of the outstanding amount each month.
While a spokesman for Cal Active said it was too soon to tell the effects of the new banking laws on its business, Moshe Livnat, VP marketing of Isracard said it had seen a steady flow of interest since its launch in March this year and that it now had "thousands" of customers.
The market is also being encroached upon by other forms of credit providers after the Alon Group teamed up with Diners International to launch "YOU" card just three weeks ago.
YOU, which is linked to the Cal Active revolving credit program, forms the basis of the Alon Group's loyalty program for purchases made at its food stores including Mega, Super Center, Blue Center, KFC, Pizza Hut and at its Dor Alon gas stations.
Shlomi Lahana, general manager of YOU, noted that in addition to the reward benefits that customers get from using the card, the big advantage it gives is the extra credit consumers can obtain.
"We are now in a vacuum because of the banking laws and we think the public will continue to search for other alternatives means of getting credit," Lahana said. "It was predictable that the retail market would give an option to this and YOU is a good example."
He added that companies outside of the Alon framework were now approaching the company to join the program and that it would soon expand its reach.
Meanwhile, small- to medium-sized businesses, which are expected to be most affected by the new law, have also been clamoring to find new avenues of credit.
"We have seen a definite rise in requests to help them find different ways to obtain credit," said Ronnen Norni, joint CEO at Obelisk financial consulting. "It's not just a question of requests but a situation where small businesses find themselves with a cash flow problem, where checks are bouncing because customers' checks bounce, so they have to go elsewhere to get the security they need."
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