Europay International said its member banks had issued 149.9 million cards in the Eurocard-MasterCard family as of yearend 1996.

The total-also including Eurocheque, Maestro, and Cirrus debit cards- increased at a rate of 1.5 million a month and 14% for the year.

The growth put Europay 50 million cards ahead of Visa in Europe, said the Belgium-based MasterCard affiliate. Europay's historical debit strength is mainly responsible for that advantage: It claimed a 92% share of the German market, with 58.7 million debit cards.

With newfound strength in Spain, Europay reported a near quadrupling of cards, to 1.3 million.

The numbers also doubled in Turkey (to 4.1 million) and Eastern Europe (2.2 million).

In the United Kingdom, total cards rose 21% and debit cards, fueled by the MasterCard-connected Switch program, rose 35%.

Sales volume on all cards, excluding domestic Eurocheque payments, increased by 19% to the equivalent of $185 billion, on 1.67 billion transactions.

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