Everyday use of debit and credit cards in the GCC continue to grow strongly, the latest statistics from Visa International show.

For the 12 month period ended March, an average of 730,000 purchases were made per day on Visa debit and credit cards in the GCC, or more than eight transactions every second, representing robust 30 per cent growth over the previous 12-month period.

Shopping spend shot up 32 per cent to $10.5 billion (Dh38.64 billion).

"While the rise in volume and value of card payments is gratifying, what is perhaps more significant is that the majority of purchases being made by Visa cardholders in the GCC are everyday, small value purchases," said Kamran Siddiqi, general manager for Middle East.

"This shows that cards really are starting to challenge cash in our society as the preferred way to pay."

He said these are signs of a maturing market, with the consistent trend likely to help boost economic growth in the region, since automated payments are more cost efficient.

More than a third of the Dh38.64 billion shopping spend in the GCC was generated by Saudi cardholders.

Siddiqi added that markets such as the UAE are already showing clear signs of cards replacing cash, with the numbers of purchase transactions by UAE cardholders being higher than the number of ATM cash withdrawals.

"Our member banks have focused on bringing exciting products and technologies to the Middle East such as mini cards, money transfer solutions, multifunction chip cards and loyalty offers to meet the growing demand."

Siddiqi was positive about the increased migration towards chip technology, which is expected to redefine card security and consumer loyalty.

More member banks are expected to move to chips this year in advance of the EMV (Europay MasterCard Visa) mandate set for early 2006.