The Vrije Universiteit Brussel did research on payment traffic and published the results in the Digital Payment Barometer. During the months of March this year and last year, a representative sample of respectively 1,176 and 1,181 Belgians was questioned online and by telephone about their payment habits and preferences. The results make it possible to determine the influence of the corona crisis on Belgians' payment behaviour and to chart the evolution of digital payments.
The rise of contactless card payments
A first important conclusion that can be drawn from the study is the definitive breakthrough of contactless card payments in all age categories. Where in 2019, 1 out of 3 had made a contactless payment at least once, in 2020 this had increased to almost half (47%). After 1 year of corona crisis, 7 out of 10 Belgians had become acquainted with contactless card payments. A remarkable increase of no less than 50% since the beginning of the pandemic. The corona crisis was clearly a trigger to try out contactless payments.
Surprisingly, the biggest jumps occur in the higher age categories. The group of 65-74 year olds contains the most outspoken results. 76% of them has made at least one contactless payment, compared to only 36% last year. And of all the people who have made at least one contactless payment, the older age groups actually indicate that they are more familiar with it than the group of young people (16-24 years). Contrary to what most people suspect, contactless payments are not typical for the younger generations.
Number of mobile payments rises slightly
Paying by smartphone in a physical shop is in a positive flow as well, albeit somewhat less pronounced. More Belgians than before the corona crisis have paid by smartphone at least once: 35% in 2021 compared to 30% last year, before the crisis. The correlation with age is inverse to what we have observed for contactless card payments. Mobile payments in physical shops are therefore primarily popular among the lower age groups; the people of 55 and older are less familiar with it.
The most striking increase is among 16- to 24-year-olds: for a quarter of them, mobile payments have become the preferred payment method in the past year. Before that, this was only 9%. The average for all age groups was 8% and rose to 14% one covid-year later.
For the time being, across all ages, only 4 out of 10 Belgians say they are comfortable paying by smartphone in a physical shop. For contactless payments, this is 7 out of 10. However, one third of the non-mobile payers are considering this in the future. Previously, that number was only one quarter.
Less cash at all ages
For fewer and fewer people, cash is the preferred payment method. This, too, is reflected in the figures and is fully in line with expectations. The decline in the popularity of cash continues across all ages (from 16% to 13%), but is most notable among the youngest and oldest participants of the survey.
Interestingly, the age group that likes cash the least (9%) is the 65- to 74-year-old group while 23% of 16- to 24-year-olds made their last payment in cash, the highest figure of all age groups.
The trend is also literally noticeable in our portfolio: 6% of the Belgians never have cash on them and 42% can put a maximum of EUR 20 cash on the table. On average, Belgians had EUR 55.60 in cash in their wallet in 2021, compared to EUR 61.20 before the corona crisis. Not surprisingly, the number of cash payments has sharply decreased: an impressive 39% in one year.
Shift in preferences
Overall, we can conclude that since the start of the crisis, Belgians who like to pay by card prefer to do so in a contactless manner. In the youngest and oldest categories, where there is still a relatively clear preference for cash payments, there is also a shift from cash to card payments via the terminal. Payments by smartphone are particularly popular among young people.
The contactless card is now the preferred payment method of 36% of Belgians (compared to 16% last year); 37% still prefers to put their card into the terminal (compared to 60% in 2020). Only 13% still swear by cash.
Conclusion - the impact of the corona virus
The fact that increasingly more Belgians prefer to pay digitally is a trend of the past few years, which has intensified since the outbreak of the corona crisis. Nonetheless, the Digital Payment Barometer does reveal some striking results. For instance, cash is the least popular among 65- to 74-year-olds, and that could be related to hygienic reasons. The most vulnerable active group has clearly started to avoid cash.
But the most important finding is the success of contactless card payments across all ages. While smartphone payments in physical shops are particularly popular among 16-24 year olds, this is by no means the case for contactless card payments.
In addition, we have seen that the gap between the popularity of digital payments and cash payments has widened: 87% opt for digital payments. This should not come as a surprise, as everyone is aware of the advantages: it is fast, safe, user-friendly and hygienic. The latter aspect in particular could be the explanatory factor for the most remarkable results in this survey.
In short, the crisis is yet another push in the ongoing process towards a smart and fast society where digital solutions make life easier and safer.
The Digital Payment Barometer is part of Digital Payment Day, an initiative of umbrella organisation Febelfin, in collaboration with partners from the payment sector: Bancontact Payconiq Company, Mastercard, Visa and Worldline. On this day, we publish the results of scientific research about digital payments and we promote digital payments.