Have payments changed forever? Or just temporarily shifted?

As the COVID-19 pandemic moved into Australia in mid-March, consumer attitudes and behaviours shifted dramatically. But which of these changes could survive into the long-term and which are simply temporary?

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Consumer data provide an invaluable window into the changing landscape of banking and payments. Combining data from RFi with those available in the market helps paint a picture of 2021 and beyond.

" Is this the death knell [for cash that] we have been waiting for? Not really.”

Digital acceleration?

One of the largest - and least surprising - shifts compelled by movement restrictions and lockdowns has been channel usage. The long-term shift to digital was already evident but 2020 saw a step-change in the move to mobile banking.

RFi believes mobile banking will become the predominant channel over the next few years as more than 70 per cent of the population engages with their financial institutions via mobile. Branch usage saw a necessary decline but RFi believes - as far out as 2024 - one in five consumers will still visit a branch on a monthly basis.

Cash crash?

An environment in which we are asked to sanitise our hands in every shop is obviously not conducive to handling cash. As a result, the share of physical cash’s volume of transactions in RFi’s annual payments diary plummeted from 32 per cent in 2019 to 19 per cent in 2020.

Is this the death knell we have been waiting for? Not really.

In 2021, RFi expects a small rebound followed by a return to longer term downward trends for cash usage. But by 2025 it is still anticipated cash will account for more than 10 per cent of transactions. 

At the same time as card usage has increased, RFi has seen a tick up in contactless usage - both contactless cards and mobile wallets on smart phones.

Contactless card usage had plateaued in recent years, with approximately 70 per cent of the population having tried the tap and go card functionality in 2018 and 2019. This year, the proportion jumped to 86 per cent as consumers sought to minimise contact in as many ways as possible.

The knock-on effect of this trend has also been seen in the perennial underperforming world of mobile wallets. In September 2019, just 24 per cent of smartphone owners had tried a mobile wallet. By September 2020 that figure had boosted to 34 per cent with more than half of consumers under 35 having tried a mobile wallet. 

Longer term payments trends will be determined by the extent to which these behaviours become habitual.

Consumers use the new payment method; they like the new payment methods; they continue to use the new payment method at the expense (pardon the pun!) of the old method.

The saying goes that habits take between 21 to 254 days to form, depending on what source you believe. As I write this, there have been just over 200 days since the restrictions in Australia began at the beginning of April.

254 days seems just close enough for these habits to stay for good.  

Alan Shields is Chief Operating Officer at RFi Group

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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