The European Central Bank (ECB) has published the aptly named Study on the Payment Attitudes of Consumers in the Euro Area (SPACE). SPACE investigates consumers’ use of cash and non-cash payment instruments at the level of each participating euro area country and for the euro area as a whole. The SPACE study follows the 2016 Study on the Use of Cash by Households in the euro area (SUCH) albeit with an amended scope as person-to-person (P2P) and remote payments are now added to the previous Point-of-Sale (POS) payments.
The data collection was conducted in 2019 and included a one-day payment diary in 17 euro area countries with 41,155 respondents. The German and Dutch central banks carried out separate surveys and the findings were included in the SPACE results.
The key findings show that:
The report shows that the mix of payment instruments differs significantly between countries.
Excluding Germany, for which comparable data on remote payments (i.e. online and bill payments) are not available, the SPACE results also show that:
Consumers’ self-reported preferences for payment instruments contrast with the actual high usage of cash, as there seems to be a preference for using non-cash payment instruments. Almost half (49%) of the respondents stated that they preferred using cards or other cashless payment instruments (up from 43% in 2016 according to SUCH), whereas 27% said that they preferred cash (down from 32% in 2016), while the remaining 24% said that they were indifferent. Asked about the importance of cash, 55% of the respondents stated that it is important or very important for them to still have the option to pay with cash in the future. “Consumers’ freedom to choose their payment method is of the utmost importance to us. Therefore we aim to ensure acceptance of and access to cash throughout the euro area, while promoting innovation on digital payments, including in our work on the possible issuance of a digital euro,” said Executive ECB Board member Fabio Panetta.
Cash is also used by respondents as an alternative way of savings for precautionary motives (e.g. as a safeguard against events such as electronic payment outages or crises), since 34% of the respondents stated that they stored cash at home or in a safe place.
The ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic appears to have accelerated the use of non-cash payments for at least some consumers. According to a separate survey on the impact of the pandemic on cash trends which was carried out on behalf of the ECB in July 2020 in all euro area countries, 40% of respondents have used less cash since the start of the pandemic, and almost 90% of them stated that they would continue to pay less with cash (46% certainly and 41% probably) after the pandemic was over.
The most often-mentioned reason for the change in perception was the fact that electronic payments have been made more convenient during the pandemic, e.g. by increasing the threshold for the contactless card holder having to enter his/her personal identification number (PIN) for payment authorisation into the card terminal.
The decline in cash use for making payments raises the question about the availability of cash and its acceptance as a payment instrument. A large majority of respondents were still satisfied with their access to cash via automated teller machines (ATMs), bank branches and post offices in 2019, but compared with the 2016 results there has been a decline in the ease of access to them (from 94% to 89%) in all euro area countries. Cash acceptance at the POS is still high in most euro area countries, but in a few countries, it can no longer be said that cash is universally accepted.
According to the ECB, the SPACE report will help to “implement the Eurosystem’s retail payments and cash strategies. These include the promotion of competitive, innovative and resilient pan-European market solutions, as well as a commitment to keep cash accessible and accepted as a means of payment throughout the euro area.”