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The Green Sheet Online Edition

November 09, 2020 • Issue 20:11:01

Crises usher in new payment preferences

By Patti Murphy

It's revealing how crises can usher in changes in the way money and payments are handled. Prior to the early 2000s, the check payment system was largely paper based. People deposited checks at bank branches. There, they were bundled and trundled to processing centers where they got sorted and bundled again to be sent to paying banks using a network of air- and land-based vehicles.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks laid bare the inherent inefficiencies of this labor-intensive and time-sensitive nature of clearing checks: cargo planes loaded with checks were grounded. This, in turn, led Congress and the Federal Reserve to provide a legal framework for electronifying the check payment system.

Today, better than 99 percent of checks clear electronically between banks, according to the Fed, and growing numbers are deposited electronically, too. Mitek Systems, the California-based company that developed the software undergirding most mobile deposit services, reported that over 7,000 banks and credit unions use its software to accept billions of checks a year.

Meanwhile, several fintech firms now offer products that allow consumers and businesses to replace paper checks with electronically created replicas, thereby electronifying the entire check payment process.

Now we're seeing a similar trend unfold as consumers and businesses, concerned about the spread of COVID-19, shun cash and embrace contactless approaches to credit and debit card payments.

Less cash, more contactless

While there is no definitive evidence that COVID can be spread through cash, many Americans remain wary of using cash. Among those recently surveyed by 451 Research, 20 percent said they are using cash less since the pandemic broke out. And The Strawhecker Group reported that 26 percent of consumers it recently surveyed expect to continue using cash less even after the pandemic is over.

Strawhecker's survey also revealed that 27 percent of consumers expect to use credit and debit cards more going forward, and that a majority (60 percent) believe contactless cards are safer in terms of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

And here are two really telling data points from 451 Research: just over one in six consumers have made their first contactless payment since the pandemic began, with 86 percent of those folks planning to continue using contactless options for credit and debit card payments.

It's not just contactless cards that are gaining favor with consumers. The NFC Forum just released findings of an international consumer survey revealing that over 75 percent of consumers use contactless payment cards or NFC-enabled mobile wallets multiple times a week. The data, and personal experience, tell me the stage is set for a major shift toward contactless payments, with usage eventually supplanting card swipes and dips at the POS.

What does all this mean for ISOs and merchant level salespeople? They should be promoting contactless payment card acceptance among merchants and prospects now, or risk being caught behind the eight ball. end of article

Patti Murphy is senior editor at The Green Sheet and self-described payments maven of the fourth estate. Follow her on Twitter @GS_PayMaven.

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