Country Snapshot: Israel

Marc Jarrett
Being married to a Jewish princess, I have had the pleasure of travelling to Israel on more than one occasion. The first thing that struck me when I first visited there was the rampant black humor of which I am a loyal fan — I had never heard so many Jewish jokes in my entire life! The trait of not taking oneself too seriously came as a breath of fresh air, not least since we were living in Germany at the time — whose population arguably does take itself far too seriously!

Whilst having the world's hundredth largest population, with some 6.4 million inhabitants, Israel is a tech-savvy country in more ways than one. Not only was the processor in your computer probably developed there, but this is also the country that lays claim to having the highest percentage of home computers per capita anywhere in the world.

A recent study conducted by the Bank of Israel shows that in Israel the use of payment cards has surged in several sectors due to the recent economic boom there. Online shopping, thanks to a 72 percent penetration rate in household Internet access, has played an important role in this, along with the increasing number of merchants that accept payment cards.

Technological advancement has brought its own contribution, allowing for the launch of new products on the market, including prepaid cards and smart cards. The issuer of Leumi Visa credit cards recently reported that the number of valid cards at the end of last year grew by 14 percent relative to the previous year.

However, as with most developed markets, many Israelis are often reluctant to use their plastic friends online for fear of fraud, identity theft, or plain fear of being found out by an over-inquisitive wife — and believe me, I know what I am talking about!

This might help account for why our pay-per-call phone billing solution is popular with surfers from there: No forms; no paper trial; just easy and anonymous access to the forbidden fruits of your member's area for a time of your choosing.

And on the subject of phones, Jackie Mason's hilarious cell phone sketch simply reinforces what I had long suspected — the Israelis are a nation of cell phone junkies! This addiction was symbolically cast in stone back in 1998 in the shape of a cellular phone carved out of basalt rock which adorns the gravestone of Guy Akrish at the Ashkelon cemetery in southern Israel.

It therefore stands to reason that you should include phone processing as part of your billing armory in order to maximize your revenues from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Israelis' love affair with the telephone has never waned, a fact of which I am harshly reminded of every month when our phone bill arrives. I have learnt the hard way as to why Jewish mothers make great parole officers — it is because they never let anyone finish a sentence.