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Cuba: Cash and Electronic Payments

Categories : Cash and Crises, Cash does not require a technology infrastructure, Cash generates security
August 28, 2023
Tags : Acceptance of cash, Access to cash, ATMs, Cash, Cuba, Digital payments
The Cuban government recently restricted the use of cash in transactions, seeking to promote financial inclusion. Cuban infrastructure is ill-prepared for digital payments.
Manuel A. Bautista-González

Ph.D. in U.S. History, Columbia University in the City of New York

Post-Doctoral Researcher in Global Correspondent Banking, 1870-2000 – Mexico and South America, University of Oxford

This post is also available in: Spanish

“The increase in the use of cash in transactions has led to a decline in financial inclusion. In addition, [there are] high costs associated with its issuance, transportation, processing and storage, and the increasing demand for ATMs to withdraw cash.” – Resolution 111/2023, Central Bank of Cuba (BCC).

Cuba’s economic troubles have worsened since the Covid-19 pandemic. Inflation exceeded 70% in 2021 and reached 39% in 2022. Cubans have long used cash to settle transactions and hold sizable holdings at home.

On August 3, the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC, presided by Che Guevara from 1959 to 1961) issued rules limiting cash transactions to 5,000 pesos ($20 at black market rates) between individuals and companies and curtailing ATM withdrawals. The Cuban government seeks to promote digital payments by forcing the public to deposit their cash holdings in bank accounts.

“Today there is a significant level of cash that is outside the banking system. That money does not circulate through the logical paths of the economy and is only traded between people.” – Joaquín Alonso Vázquez, BCC president.

Run for Cash and Long Lines at ATMs

“In the times we are living in, 5,000 pesos is nothing. If I had a lot of money, I would not put it in the bank, because if I need it tomorrow and I go to the bank, they will not be able to give it to me, so I will have to wait three days, or until the bank has enough money” said mechanical engineer Lisandra Pupo, 30 on France24.

Cubans have scrambled to withdraw cash from ATMs.

Cash in Circulation and Bank Deposits

 “We are going to have to pay with cocoa seeds, because paper cash is an illusion. The entire country could be paralyzed at any time.” – Roberto.

Most Cubans use cash and have not adopted digital payments. Currency in circulation in Cuba grew 48.3% between 2015 and 2018 (see Graph 1). Current accounts grew 31.7%, sight savings grew 44.5%, and fixed-term deposits grew 22.3% in the same period. The BCC has not published monetary or financial statistics for the years after 2018.

Graph 1. Cuba: Cash in Circulation and Bank Deposits, 2015-2018.

Source: BCC (2023).

Cash and Banking Infrastructure in Cuba

“I couldn’t help but wonder how it was possible the ATM ran out of cash after only an hour of being in service. Isn’t it protocol to fill them up before the bank branch closes? Isn’t it the bank’s responsibility?” – Esther Zoza.

Cuba had barely 100 ATMs in 2001. Between 2016 and 2020, the number of bank branches grew by 2.2%, and the number of ATMs grew by 5.9%. By 2020, Cuba had 1,164 bank branches and 918 ATMs (see Graph 2).

Graph 2: Cuba: Bank Branches and ATMs, 2016-2020

Source: BCC’s Reporte informativo de inclusión financiera (RIIF, 2020) in Mora Silvera (2021: 50).

Map 1. Cuba: Banking Infrastructure, 2020 (Access Points per 100 km2 in La Havana and 1,000 km2 by Province)

Source: BCC’s RIIF (2020) in Mora Silvera (2021: 98).

Between 2019 and 2020, ATM withdrawals grew by 25.5% by volume and 81.6% by value (Millán Sardiña 2022: 125, see Graph 3). Service payments and card transfers represent a small share of ATM operations. ATM operations grew 30.8% between 2017 and 2020 (Mora Silvera 2021: 55).

Graph 3. Cuba: ATM Operations, 2019-2020

Note: Extracción de efectivo – ATM withdrawals; Pagos de servicios – Service payments; Transferencia entre tarjetas – card transfers.
Source: Millán Sardiña (2022: 121).

Electronic Payments

“To install point-of-sale terminals, a communication line is required. Now imagine how much investment we would need to put terminals in all points of sale.” – Joaquín Alonso Vázquez, CC president.

The BCC has long sought to promote and consolidate electronic payments by modernizing the wholesale and retail payments infrastructure. However, Cuba has made little inroads toward this goal.

Graph 4: Cuba: POS Terminals and Debit Cards, 2016-2020

Source: BCC’s RIIF (2020) in Mora Silvera (2021: 50); Millán Sardiña (2022: 121).

“All payments between economic actors must be based on the payment methods established by the BCC, prioritizing electronic channels.” – Alberto Quiñones Betancourt, BCC vice president.

Between 2017 and 2020, POS transactions grew by 48% (see Graph 5). Mobile and remote banking operations have increased by 58,722% and 637% in the same period; telephonic banking declined by 33.1%. Operations through the Enzona payment app grew by 2,399.2% between 2019 and 2020.

Graph 5. Cuba: Individuals’ Operations by Digital Payment Channels, 2017-2020

Source: BCC’s RIIF (2020) in Mora Silvera (2021: 55).

This post is also available in: Spanish