Payments

Is Coronavirus Cutting Out Cash?

March 18, 2020 4 min read

With all of the uncertainty emerging from Covid-19, businesses and customers alike are looking at changing up how they pay and get paid.

Unlimint team
Your payment experts

The way that businesses take, and customers make payments has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. Where credit cards were a nascent concept, paying with cash or a cheque were the norms and no-one had even heard of a debit card. Fast forward to now, and the landscape has well and truly flipped.

But with the continuing uncertainty and fears whipped up by the transmission of Coronavirus, will we see a faster switch from cash to more digital methods? There’s certainly been a movement by banks and businesses to accomplish just that.



Over the course of February and March, for example, retailers have been urging customers to pay using cards or digital payments versus cash. With the majority of these same retailers citing Coronavirus as their main hesitation about taking cash.

That’s not to say that their fears are unfounded; according to the BBC in 2018, banknotes within the UK can be home to more than 19 different kinds of bacteria. And with the number of COVID-19 cases emerging, less is certainly more where bacteria is concerned.

This transition is something which remains to be seen, at least when looking at digital versus credit cards and cash. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, cash payments still make up 26% of transactions, and 35% of all in-person payments over 2019.


For regions like Latin America, cash on delivery remains one of the most popular means of making payments, making it an uphill struggle to actually replace anytime soon.

For countries like Europe and Asia, there’s already been plenty of movement away from cash; with Europe and Asia moving over to credit cards, Paypal and mobile methods more often.

  • Europe: Paypal- 91%, Visa – 89%, Mastercard – 68%
  • USA: Credit Card – 80%, Cash – 79%, Debit Card – 59%
  • Asia: Credit Card – 41%, Mobile – 27%, Debit Card – 25%

Europe and Asia are already demonstrating what societies look and operate like as ones slowly shrugging off cash. So, for them, it’ll be interesting to see how these stats change over this year.

In regions of the world, like the USA and Latin America, however, cash remains popular and, for those in LATAM: vital for making payments. Especially for those living in Latin America; with its people having far lower levels of access to banking solutions in comparison to other continents.

To really see those trends change, we’ll likely see businesses and banks in these regions work to lower the barrier to entry while encouraging their users to ditch cash.

Big Challenges for Brick and Mortar

While things are looking much more diverse in how customers make payments, brick and mortar retailers can only ever be as innovative as the people that shop there.


Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ shopping solution was first debuted in Seattle in 2016, with interesting results, and a future solution for other retailers too.

Amazon, however, is offering a number of businesses the chance to leverage it’s candidly-named ‘Just Walk Out‘ technology as a way of both streamlining the customer experience, and side-stepping health risks that come with cash and card.

While brick and mortar retailers are somewhat more constrained by just how their customers are more likely to do business. Offering customers that flexibility to pay digitally, coupled with the current concerns customers have of using cash may be enough to inspire the change.

Reports from both financial experts in both Kenya and the USA have suggested that going cashless through digital payments, and delivery are just some of the ways that businesses can innovate to meet this uncertainty.

Even with this decision from Amazon, many retailers are feeling the pressure of uncertainty with Coronavirus fears driving customers away from physical stores and into the self-isolation of online retail.

Big names like Nike and Apple, among many others, have already announced that they’ll be closed for the remainder of this month. Retailers, like Debenhams in the UK, for example, have also requested rent breaks in light of the social distancing taking place among its customers.

Coronavirus Cutting out Cash?

While businesses and banks have been urging people to pay less with cash, it’s hard to fully comprehend, at this stage, just what kind of impact that COVID-19 will actually have on the way that customers do business with retailers, overall.

Certainly, banks in Ireland and Poland, as just some examples, have announced their plans to increase limits to contactless payments by double. The rationale being that customers will be able to pay safely more while needing to withdraw far less.

What is pretty clear, however, is that people are taking more precautions now, and will, at the very least, look to pay using a credit card, debit card, or even digital payment of some kind, from what we’ve seen in Europe and Asia.

All the while, with precautions being taken, like self-isolating and shopping online, businesses that place the least amount of friction between themselves and their customers will be able to weather the storm being kicked up this quarter.

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