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Competitive service.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS, emanating from both the banking community and the Egyptian government, are bringing Egyptian retail banking up to international standards. This year, Banque Misr, Egypt's largest, launches a new Visa card for both local and international currencies. Misr, and the first Egyptian bank to offerk a dual Visa card, aims to issue 10,000 by the end of one year. According to the Visa central manager at the bank, Monsef Mohammed Ali, all processing will be done in Egypt with the operation being connected on-line to the Visa centre in London.

The bank also plans to introduce more automatic teller machines (ATMs), of which there are currently 18 in Cairo and Alexandria, for customers wishing to take out or deposit cash after hours. New machines will then be introduced into other countries throughout the Middle East. These are improvements accompanied by one of the bank's largest advertising campaigns to date, involving television, print and poster advertising as well as the recent launch of a Misr Bank carrier bag for customers.

On a national scale, these developments occur at a time of considerable change in the financial climate. The government is introducing several new laws to bring banking practices up to date, forming part of its major goal of privatisation and economic restructuring.

Perhaps the most important of these is a bill aimed at regulating bank cheques. At present Egypt's economy is cash-based, since suspicion of cheques makes shops reluctant to accept them. New regulations set out rules which will enable cheques to become an acceptable and reliable instruments of payment, and allow a cheque to be valid whenever presented, regardless of date.

One of the main fears concerns bounced cheques. At present, writing cheques without sufficient money in an account is a misdemeanour. The regulations are expected to provide tougher penalties. The Cairo press has called for dishonouring cheques to be made a criminal offence, punishable by a fine or even imprisonment, with the individual responsible banned from receiving chequebooks in the future.

Domestic retail banks will now face competition from foreign banks whose local branches are at last allowed to handle Egyptian pounds.

Foreign branches were a significant feature of expanding bank operations in the 1970s and early 1980s, but as the government introduced reforms to the foreign exchange system, their role has declined. Those that have survived were forced to specialise in specific markets such as debt conversion.

Established domestic banks, such as Banque Misr, obtained a new lease of life in 1975 when a presidentail decree enable them to perform commercial banking activities in all business sectors of the economy. The new regulations, along with those aimed at creating a capital market to rival any in the Middle East, should provide an added boost to the banking system and enable Egyptian banks to operate more effectively on the world market.
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Title Annotation:Special Report on Banking and Finance in Egypt; the standardization of Egyptian retail banking
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:Born again bourse.
Next Article:Strategic Survey 1991-1992.

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