2 October 2017
The last days of cash?
Last year it was reported that Sweden was heading towards becoming the first country in the world to cease to issue banknotes and coins. This could happen within the next ten years. In 1661 it was the first country to issue banknotes and it will probably be the first to get rid of them. Only 20% of consumer payments are now made in cash compared to 75% in the rest of the world. In terms of the value of transactions only 2% was in cash last year compared to 10% in the Eurozone. Less than half of the country’s bank branches will now accept or dispense cash and even the ‘Big Issue’ sellers have been issued with contactless payment machines!
In the UK cash remains important but we are seeing a rapid increase in contactless and mobile payments. Cash, debit and credit card payments remain the main method of payment – 35% of consumers regularly carry these (according to a survey carried out recently by Sage Pay). However, the second most used payment method was PayPal.
The Sage Pay survey also sought the opinions of consumers on various payment methods. The results show a dramatic increase in the popularity of contactless payments: in 2015 9% of those surveyed ‘rated them highly’; by 2016 this had risen to 14%. In 2015 the value of contactless transactions was £7.75bn compared with only £2.32bn in the previous year. There are now 88 million contactless cards in use and in the month of April this year the total spend on these was £1.58bn representing 187.7 million transactions.
Mobile payments are also rapidly gaining ground. 76% of adults in the UK now own a smartphone and in 2016 69% of the adult population used mobiles to pay or receive money. With the introduction of Apple Pay and Android Pay this method of payment is set to increase. Meanwhile, MasterCard is rolling out its Identity Check Mobile, or ‘selfie pay’, across Europe, including Germany, Spain and the UK. This technology will allow MasterCard owners to verify their identity with a fingerprint or selfie, so users can take a photo of themselves on the app and the service creates a digitised map of their face. This is then used as a reference point whenever the user makes a purchase online.
What the customer wants
There is no doubt that cash is in retreat. In spite of consumer fears over security, contactless and mobile payment methods are gaining the upper hand. Even in my local hardware shop, a small business that until last week only accepted cash, I noticed yesterday that customers were being urged to pay by contactless. This is not surprising given the ease and efficiency of the transaction compared to the costs of handling cash and also the fact that customer expectations are driving innovation.
The Sage Pay Survey found that 90% of consumers thought it important for businesses to offer customers a wide range of payment methods. Very significantly, 58% said that they would be more likely to shop somewhere that offered them multiple ways to pay. The effect on a business’s brand and reputation is also crucial. 85% of consumers claimed that a diverse range of payment methods makes a company appear modern and progressive, with contactless payments and mobile payment technology like Apple Pay most likely to give the right impression.
The businesses included in the survey said the key benefit of offering a range of payment methods is access to a wider customer base.
Cash is not dead yet. At a recent visit to a restaurant the harassed proprietor greeted us at the door with the news that his credit card machine had failed and couldn’t be replaced for at least two days. Another couple went to a nearby ATM to draw cash before returning to order their meal. No doubt other potential customers just dined at rival establishments. Nevertheless the message is clear for those in consumer-facing businesses: you cannot make it too easy for your customers to pay you. If you are not yet offering contactless or mobile payments you look out-of-touch and old-fashioned, and you might be losing business!