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Belgian population makes massive shift to digital payments

For years now in Belgium, digital payments have been advancing and the current pandemic has only reinforced this trend. More and more people are abandoning banknotes and coins as such and using their bank card or smartphone.

This is what emerges from a recent study carried out by the partners Bancontact Payconiq Company, Febelfin, Mastercard, Visa and Worldline, organised in collaboration with the VUB: after one year of coronavirus, only 13% of Belgians still prefer to pay in cash and 70% have already paid at least once with contactless.

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel carried out a survey on trends in payments and compiled the results in the Digital Payments Barometer. During the months of March of this year and last year, a representative sample of respectively 1,176 and 1,181 Belgians were interviewed online and by telephone about their payment habits and preferences.

The results make it possible to verify the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the payment behaviour of Belgians and to trace the evolution of digital payments.

Cashless and digital payments in Belgium

The rise of contactless card payments

A first key result of the study is the decisive breakthrough in contactless card payments, in all age groups. While in 2019, 1 in 3 people had paid contactless at least once, this ratio rose to nearly one in two (47%) in 2020.

After a year of the coronavirus crisis, 7 out of 10 Belgians are are familiar with contactless card payments. A striking increase of no less than 50% since the start of the pandemic.

Surprisingly, it is in the older age groups that contactless payment has attracted the most. Thus, the 65-74 year olds in particular depart from the norm: 76% of them paid at least once without contact, against only 36% last year.

And among all those who have paid at least once without contact, the older age groups actually report being more familiar with this system than the younger group (16-24 years). Contrary to what most people imagine, contactless payments are not the preserve of the younger generations.

The crisis was clearly a trigger for testing contactless payments.

The number of mobile payments is increasing slightly

Smartphone payment in physical stores is also on the rise, albeit less markedly. More Belgians than before the crisis have made at least one mobile payment in a physical store: 35% in 2021 compared to 30% last year, before the start of the crisis.

The relationship with age is the opposite of what we have observed for contactless card payments: mobile payments in physical stores are thus the most popular among younger age groups; those over 55 are less familiar with this method of payment.

The most notable increase is among 16-24 year olds: mobile payment has become the preferred payment method for a quarter of them last year. Previously, this figure was only 9%. The average for all age groups was 8% and increased in one year to 14%.

For the moment, all ages combined, only 4 out of 10 Belgians say they are comfortable paying by smartphone in a physical store. For contactless payments, they are 7 out of 10.

However, a third of people who do not use their smartphone to make a payment, plan to do so in the future. Previously, they were only a quarter.

Less cash in all age groups

Fewer and fewer people see cash as their preferred method of payment. This is also what emerges from the figures and this development corresponds to forecasts.

The decline in popularity of cash continues regardless of the age of the user (from 16% to 13%), but it is more noticeable among the youngest and oldest participants in the survey.  It is surprising to note that the age group least attached to cash (9%) is that of 65-74 years.

This trend is also noticeable in our wallets: 6% of Belgians never have cash with them and 42% do not have more than €20. On average, Belgians had €55.60 of liquidity in their portfolio in 2021, against €61.20 before the coronavirus crisis. Unsurprisingly, the number of cash payments has fallen sharply: an impressive drop of 39% in one year.

Evolution of preferences

In general, we can see that since the start of the crisis, Belgians who like to pay by card prefer to do so without contact. Among the youngest and the oldest, categories where there is still a relative craze for cash payments, there is also a shift from cash to card payments via the terminal. Smartphone payments are again especially popular with young people.

The contactless card is now the preferred means of payment for 36% of Belgians (against 16% last year); 37% of people still prefer to insert their card into the terminal (compared to 60% in 2020). Only 13% continue to swear by cash.

Conclusion – Influence of the coronavirus

The fact that more and more Belgians prefer to pay digitally is a trend that dates back to recent years and has accelerated since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis. Nonetheless, the digital payments barometer highlights a few notable results: for example, cash is least popular among 65-74 year-olds, perhaps for hygienic reasons.

The most vulnerable working group has clearly begun to avoid cash.

But the major finding remains the success of contactless card payments at all ages. While smartphone payments are rather popular with 16-24 year olds, contactless card payments are not at all.

Additionally, we found that the gap between the popularity of digital payments and that of cash payments has grown: 87% are choosing digital payments. No wonder, since everyone knows the advantages: it’s fast, safe, user-friendly and hygienic. This last specificity is undoubtedly one of the factors explaining the most remarkable results of this survey.

In short, the crisis is a driving force that drives us towards a society where digital solutions make life easier and safer.

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