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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chinese bank cards will be valid in Isles

By Alan Yonan Jr.
Advertiser Staff Writer

An agreement that will allow Bank of Hawaii and its participating merchants to accept bank cards from China's largest issuer will provide more incentive for Chinese visitors to travel to the Islands, officials say.

Chinese visitors who hold cards from China UnionPay, a bank card association similar to Mastercard or Visa, will be able to walk into more than 1,000 merchants locally to make purchases. The visitors also can use the cards to conduct transactions at Bank of Hawaii's 484 automatic teller machines.

More than 2.1 billion cards have been issued by CUP member banks.

The joint market development agreement for merchant and ATM terminals announced yesterday is the first CUP has signed with an American bank. The relationship also calls for the two sides to promote each other in their respective markets.

"For us in China this will be great publicity," said Betty Brow, Bank of Hawaii executive vice president and head of its international banking division. "This will actually encourage more visitors to come to Hawai'i. Most Chinese visitors travel with cash. This will give them more confidence because they don't have to worry about converting their currency," she said.

Chinese travelers are much sought after among visitor destinations around the world because they spend more than counterparts from any other country about $7,200 per person per trip, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Hawai'i has averaged just over 50,000 Chinese visitors in each of the past five years, and that number is expected to grow because of China's growing economy and new wealth.

Bank of Hawaii will initially enable about 1,000 of its participating merchants, primarily those geared toward tourists, to accept the CUP cards, Brow said. The bank plans to add another 1,000 to 2,000 merchants over time. The cards can be used as credit or debit cards, but most Chinese use them as debit cards, Brow said.

Bank of Hawaii is reprogramming its ATMs to have the transaction screens display messages in Chinese characters for CUP card holders, Brow said. The bank also is waiving the ATM transaction fee for CUP cardholders.

Executives from both companies attended a signing ceremony yesterday at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel, including Cai Jianbo, first executive vice president of China UnionPay; Al Landon, BOH chairman and chief executive officer; and Peter Ho, BOH president and chief banking officer.

"With a growing number of visitors from China coming to Hawai'i every year, this is a tremendous opportunity to provide extended customer service, and to ensure they are able to access funds and make transactions when needed," Landon said. "This agreement is expected to help Chinese tourism and spending here in Hawai'i, and ultimately will help to create an overall positive experience in Hawai'i for Chinese visitors."

Cai said China UnionPay would consider expanding its relationship with Bank of Hawaii in the future.

"Hawai'i is one of the most important markets for CUP," Cai said. "CUP attaches great importance to the cooperation with BOH. The two parties shall explore further cooperation opportunities on the basis of this agreement."