Europe approaching cashless society, finds Fung Global Retail & Technology report

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Europe soon could be looking at the exit of cash from day-to-day transactions as smartphone technology supports digital money, says “Mobile Payments: Supporting Europe’s Move to a Cashless Society,” a just-released report from global think tank, Fung Global Retail & Technology.

The process is already well underway in some European countries, with some retailers, transportation companies and even bank branches no longer accepting cash, claims Deborah Weinswig, managing director of Fung Global Retail & Technology. But it still has a way to go.

“Despite the developments in digital payment methods, cash is still commonly used in many regions, particularly in Eastern Europe,” Weinswig said. “[But] mobile payment adoption in Europe is expected to make great leaps in the coming years.”

The Asia-Pacific region leads the world in mobile payments (i.e., payments made face-to-face using a smartphone application such as Apple Pay), but Europe is seeing rapid growth in the broader contactless payments category. In 2013, just 1 in 60 face-to-face payments were made using contactless payment services, reported Visa Europe. That has risen to one in five payments this year, propelled by growth in everyday purchases such as lunch, restaurants and groceries, as well as an increase in the number of merchants who can accept these payments.

“Consumer sectors that see a high number of low-value transactions channelled through payment terminals, such as transportation and grocery retail, look to offer the greatest opportunities to grow mobile payment usage. Because consumers make frequent purchases in these categories, they desire speed and convenience in such transactions. These sectors can serve to introduce mobile payments to consumers, who will likely want to use them in other sectors once they are familiar with how they work,” Weinswig said.

Western European uptake of mobile payment uptake is being underpinned by higher rates of smartphone penetration (nearly three in four mobile phone users by some estimates) and bank account penetration (nearly 90%) compared with Asia and Africa – mobile payments require both. According to the Digital Money Index, nine of the top 15 ranked digital-ready countries are located in Europe, including Finland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Adoption will vary by country, with United Kingdom residents among the earliest adopters (largely due to transportation payments). Strong growth is expected in Germany, and Sweden could become a cashless society by 2030.

Merchants are installing contactless points of interaction to accommodate near-field communication (NFC) payments such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.

“Leading payment operators expect that all payment terminals in Europe will be NFC ready by 2020,” said Weinswig. “Some Western European countries are on the path to becoming near cashless societies, and mobile face-to-face payments are likely to play a significant role in this shift.”