Ironically, fintechs and cashless payment technologies who promise to ensure financial inclusion often achieve the opposite results
The global digital payments market was valued at USD 3885.57 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach USD 8686.68 billion by 2025, recording a CAGR of 13.7 percent, during the forecast period of 2020 – 2025—according to various reports.
In the last one decade or so, we saw rapid changes in the payments landscape, building on the accelerating growth in digital payments. The emerging markets have been at the forefront of this payment transformation. With the rise of innovative fintech players, the digital payment ecosystem, in recent years, witnessed unprecedented growth. In India alone, we have had many success stories of fintech players that literally transformed the payment ecosystem and the way India transacted. Most importantly, technology allowed us to build a payment infrastructure from the scratch, in a relatively short span of time, without the burden of legacy systems.
Globally, the power dynamics in the payments industry are changing as businesses and consumers shift dollars from cash and checks to digital payment methods. Cards dominate the in-store retail channel, but mobile and other fintech are seeing a rapid uptick in usage. Back in 2019, WPR stated that mobility, connected homes, entertainment, and media are expected to boost non-cash transactions in the future. The rise of digitization at corporate B2B payment is affecting regional trends. In the Asia Pacific markets, large and medium scaled businesses are adopting digital invoicing, virtual cards, and cloud-based finance and accounting. In the emerging Asian markets, charge cards are popular among corporates to ease and secure supply-chain payments.
Banks, fintechs and regulators embraced cashless payment, as it is cheaper, more effective and more transparent. Nandan Nilekani committee on digital payments had recommended that the Reserve Bank of India and the government must aim to maximize the volume of digital payments by a factor of 10 in three years, leading to double the value relative to gross domestic product. The committee also emphasized the need to expand the acceptance infrastructure across the country and also to reduce the interchange on card payments by 15 basis points. The panel also pushed for the removal of all charges on digital payment transactions for the convenience of customers.
Overall, the decline of traditional branch banking and ATMs will give way to digital financial services.
That said, cash is an inevitable part of our economy and many developed economies which have seemingly become ‘cash-less’. Ironically, fintechs and cashless payment technologies who promise to ensure financial inclusion often achieve the opposite results in the process of cutting cash out—experts point out. Banking pundits underscore that cash is and will remain the most inclusive financial instrument across the globe. Cash distribution might incur huge costs and the new-age financial services users might prefer a completely digital money based system. But, cash is critical in ensuring true financial inclusion to cater to segments that can’t afford to be part of the modern financial system—senior citizens, less educated and less tech-savvy communities.
In markets like India, where almost 80 percent of the transactions are still cash-based, going cash-less might not even be an option. That explains why the industry is now focusing on ‘cash-lite’ instead of cashless.
In many markets though, industry stakeholders and banks are mindlessly pushing forward a paradigm of a cashless society. The era of ’20s will be the years of falling cash usage, but it is our responsibility as an industry, to ensure this process is smooth and painless, and no-one is left behind.