CAIRO: In mid-April, Arab African International Bank (AAIB) became the first bank in Egypt to launch a credit card making use of smart chip technology.
Smart chips are located on the front of every credit card and contain information about the card carrier’s account. They can contain up to 16 K of storage space for digital information, and it is this untapped potential that AAIB’s new card makes use of.
The bank, which was the first to introduce smart card technology into the Egyptian market, teamed up with Visa and health insurance provider Medmark to provide policyholders with a dynamic credit card that carries their vital health information on the smart chip and allows them to have their medical expenses reimbursed electronically.
The card can also be used as a normal credit card and features one of the lowest interest rates in the market, zero foreign exchange markups and an automatic LE 5,000 credit limit subject to increase based on the profiles of individual Medmark clients.
The medical information stored on the card, which includes things such as the client’s blood type, known allergies, and emergency contacts, can only be accessed from points of sale associated with the insurance provider, assuring confidentiality for the cardholder in non-medical purchases.
Daily News Egypt sat down with Marwan Said, AAIB’s head of product development to learn more about the new card, the future of smart chip technology, and what AAIB’s product development team is working on now.
Daily News Egypt: How did the idea for this card come about?
Marwan Said: Medmark was looking to provide their clients with credit cards to streamline the process of reimbursement for medical expenses.
They initially approached Visa with the idea and Visa came to us for help in developing the actual product. We felt that the card needed an edge to make it attractive to Medmark’s customers over and above the other cards in their wallet, so we came up with the idea of using the smart chip to store medical data – a feature that would distinguish this card from the rest.
And this is the first card to make use of the smart chip in this way?
Yes, and making it happen was not an easy process. It took a year and a half to encrypt the chip and we had to send staff abroad for training on security procedures. It was the first time a bank in Egypt has undertaken this process, so it was a challenge.
How will this card enhance the service Medmark provides to its clients?
The card is meant to make the reimbursement process for clients’ medical expenses more efficient. Where before they might have had to wait until the beginning of the month to be compensated for expenses, now they can have the money deposited back into their account in a matter of days.
On top of this, the card provides medical professionals with vital information about the patient that will be useful in the event of an emergency, and gives the client all the benefits of a normal credit card.
How has this product benefited AAIB?
Our goal is to make our products number one among our clients. Projects like this help us to expand our client base immensely. AAIB is an acquiring bank holding about 55-60 percent of the merchant market in the country, and by working with Medmark, we have made all of their clients and sales points clients of ours as well, even if they also work with other banks.
These clients may not switch their accounts over to AAIB, but they are still using our products and this brings in business. Simply, the more new quality products we introduce, the more opportunities we have to increase issuance, especially if we create specialized products that appeal to certain client bases.
Do you think the expansion of credit in Egypt is a positive thing?
I think it would benefit Egypt to move away from cash and into the realm of credit. We have low credit limits here, so it is harder for people to get in trouble with credit cards, and with education people can learn to use them responsibly.
People can use credit cards and never pay a piaster of interest if they are organized and pay their balance on time. We want to tap into the growing market of middle class professionals and youth who want to learn more about credit and use it responsibly, and introducing more co-branded cards will help us do this.
Is AAIB planning to introduce other similar cards in the future?
Absolutely. There is almost no limit to opportunities for co-branding with the smart chip technology. As we’re the only bank in this market right now, we’d like to introduce several more cards before other banks start introducing similar products.
We’d also like to provide cards accessible to different classes of spenders in Egyptian society to get them used to the idea of having a credit card and partaking of the benefits it can offer. For example, we like the idea of a card co-branded with a local sporting club that gives members discounts on purchases inside the club and stores membership information on the smart chip. Expect to see something like that in the near future.