BEIJING, July 30 (Xinhua) -- On her second trip to Beijing after a decade, Jenny White, a U.S. book cover designer, found she could use her credit card more easily and was less reliant on the wads of cash required for shopping in the city.
"When I first came to Beijing ten years ago, I had to pay cash in the supermarket. Now I can use my credit card in many places. It's convenient," she said.
Nevertheless, reports have focused on how many overseas tourists have complained about the inefficiency of China's state-owned banks. One man was annoyed when he found two counters took half an hour to finish one transaction.
Although Beijing's financial services have improved considerably in recent decades, the tremendous currency inflow the Games will bring poses a huge challenge.
Beijing Tourism Bureau has said the city expects 500,000 to 550,000 overseas tourists and a record 5.8 million total visitors in Beijing, compared with an average 4.48 million the city received during the weeklong holidays each year. Moreover, most people coming for the games would stay for more than a week.
CHALLENGE FOR FINANCE SERVICE
"Financial services tailored for the Games involve a wide range of businesses and products. Ensuring a comprehensive and efficient financial service environment is a great challenge for us," admitted Huo Xuewen, director of Beijing Municipal Finance Office.
It was also a big challenge for host cities of previous Games. There were reports of complaints about rampant credit card fraud and inadequate preparations for the dramatic increase in transaction volumes. To avoid such problems, Beijing has warned local banks to prepare for these risks.
Su Ning, deputy director of the People's Bank of China, or the central bank, said China's banks had improved payment services for the Olympics on an inspection trip on July 14.
Banks in the Olympics "key zones" will provide multilingual services and sign language services during the Paralympics. They are required to handle Unionpay, Visa, MasterCard, American Express and JCB cards.
"If foreigners use cards brought from their home countries, they might need to wait a little longer than Chinese customers to make purchases. But there won't be a big difference," said Hao Gang, an official with the municipal finance office.
Official statistics showed that in June, credit and debit card payment, excluding the real estate and wholesale markets, accounted for half of the nation's total retail consumption.
"Now credit cards can be used either in the supermarket or in the Xiushui Jie Market", said Jenny.
The Xiushui Jie Market is frequently visited by foreigners. General manager of the Xiushui Jie Company Ltd. Wang Zili told Xinhua that among the 1,000-plus stalls in the market, up to 850 were equipped with point of sale (POS) machines that accept foreign cards.
Even so, the authorities have suggested people should carry some cash as the situations vary in different places of the city.
"OLYMPICS FINANCE MAP"
The municipal finance office head said about 3,200 commercial bank outlets would offer services for the Games visitors. Among them, 1,887 would be able to deal with foreign currencies, foreign card and travelers check transactions. Of the 363 bureaus de change, 82 will offer 24-hour services.
People can also exchange foreign currencies in 330 hotels with three stars or more. Exchange services are also available in all the 295 outlets around the Olympic "key zones", 10 of which are in the Capital Airport.
The bank outlets sport conspicuous, illuminated "EXCHANGE" signs. Special queues and counters have been set up for exchange services.
Beijing now boasts 42,614 stores that accept card payments, 7,547 automatic teller machines and 88,129 POS machines in use.
"We have produced a finance map to help people easily find the location of banking outlets," Huo said.
The map, with each financial institution represented by a different color, was issued last year. A total of 200,000 free copies were distributed at more than 2,000 public places such as office buildings, restaurants, bars, clubs and banks.
As the Game's only banking partner, the Bank of China (BOC) is allowing overseas visitors to open temporary bank accounts in any of its outlets so long as they have valid visas on their passports. The bank will also cash travelers checks issued by designated foreign banking institutions such as VISA and MasterCard, said a bank staff member.
She said overseas visitors should close the account before leaving China. They can learn more about opening an account on the bilingual brochure "Guide to Foreign Exchange Service" available in the outlets.
A BOC spokesman said on Monday only the VISA credit card would be acceptable in Olympics facilities as VISA was the Games' only official electronic payment brand and payment service provider.
A Wall Street Journal report said VISA paid about 75 million U.S. dollars to be an official sponsor of the 2006 Turin Games and this summer's Beijing Games, citing Chicago-based research firm IEG.
The spokesman said the facilities included all Olympics venues, the Main Press Center, the International Broadcast Center, the Olympic Village, the Olympic Media Village, the Beijing National Olympic Green Convention Center, the Digital Beijing Building, public areas of Olympic Green, official Olympic stores, Olympic Family Hotels and other venues operated by the Games organizing committee.
The central bank issued new notes worth 36.55 billion yuan in the first half, up 211.2 percent from the same period last year.
PREPARATION STILL GOING ON
Other commercial banks in Beijing are also making preparations for the coming Olympics.
"Though our bank is not a Games banking partner, we have prepared for the Olympics. For example, the electronic screens in our outlets now release information on foreign currency transactions in both Chinese and English," said Wang Jinshan, deputy director of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Beijing Branch.
Liu Yuan, a clerk in China Construction Bank's Beijing Branch, said, "We have more bilingual staff, more bilingual signs, more obstacle-free lanes.... The Olympics is helping us to learn and to improve."
However, Liu Baofeng, director of Beijing Banking Regulatory Bureau, has observed problems at some banks such as long queues during peak hours and shortages of small value and infrequently-used foreign currencies.
He said a recent inspection by the bureau found that clerks in some outlets were unaware of how to provide proper services while customers did not know where to seek advice or complain.
More training was needed for possible computer system failures, interruptions of power or communications, and terrorist attacks, he added.
"We are trying to settle these problems as soon as possible." Liu said.