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However, this advanced behaviour is not reflected in the use of credit and charge cards, especially when compared with Australia, the next most developed economy in the region.
With a population six times larger than Australia's, Japan saw only twice as many card transactions in 2004, 208 million transactions vs. 105 million in Australia. And billings per card are five times lower. This disparity is not expected to differ much in the short- to medium-term future.
Some of the key barriers to payment card adoption in Japan:
• Lack of credit card culture: It was not until 1992 that bank-affiliated issuers were permitted to issue cards that allowed revolving credit. Most of today's consumers therefore did not grow up with the notion of using credit cards.
• Fragmented merchant base: Japan lacks a substantial base of relatively large retailers to make the network financially efficient. The cost of recruiting the small 'mom and pop' shops that make up their bulk of the merchant base is high.
• Cost of fraud prevention: Credit card fraud came to more than US$140 million in 2002, and high telecommunications costs hinder the development of an effective anti-fraud system.
Despite the anticipated growth in the next five years, Japan's payment card market will take much longer than that to reach its full potential.
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