British adults are more likely to have a credit or debit card in their wallet than consumers in any other country in Western Europe. Research by independent market analysts Datamonitor found that the average Brit now carried an average of around 2.8 payment cards in their wallet. This is an increase on 2002, when the amount was 2.4 cards – the number is expected to exceed three cards per adult by 2011.

By comparison, Norway, which has the second highest number of cards per adult, lagged some distance behind the UK in the report – with 2.3 cards per adult. Germany had 1.6 payment cards per adult, and France had just one per adult. Andrew Fabricius, Datamonitor financial services analyst and author of the report, said UK consumers had a different attitude to debt, and were more relaxed about using payment cards. He added: “In the UK consumers use debit cards for day-to-day spending much like their European counterparts, but they are increasingly using credit cards as borrowing tools, applying for new credit cards to transfer an outstanding balance and to take advantage of interest free offers. In most other countries, consumers do not view credit cards as a borrowing tool and as a result they are not so popular.”

But more notable was the extremely high number of credit cards per adult in the UK compared to the rest of Western Europe. At the end of 2006 the average adult had 1.4 credit cards, twice that of the second country on the list – Norway, with 0.7 cards per adult. In Spain there were just 0.4 cards per person, and at the other end of the scale in Germany, where credit products were reported to be very unpopular, the figure was just 0.06 – or approximately just one card for every sixteen adults.

Fabricius added: “The high penetration of credit cards in the UK is due to consumers being happy to pay for goods and services by using credit and enjoy the flexibility of paying for purchases over a longer period of time. By contrast, consumers in Germany have a more disciplined attitude towards expenditure and as a result credit cards are far less popular.”

However, the report said the UK should expect a slowdown in the growth of such cards this year. In terms of total card numbers, the UK credit card market is predicted to see an average annual growth rate of just 0.2%, the slowest growth rate in the region. By contrast, several other markets, especially those with underdeveloped credit card markets, will see significant growth. In particular, the number of cards in Germany is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 26% to 2011, and France at 21%.

Fabricius added. “These markets will see significant growth as consumers become more accustomed to the flexibility that credit cards can offer. Nonetheless, the UK is expected to remain the biggest market in terms of cards per person for the foreseeable future.”