Debit cards set to overtake cash in the UK three years ahead of schedule

Debit cards set to overtake cash in the UK three years ahead of schedule

The soaring popularity of contactless cards is changing the dynamics of the UK payments industry with new forecasts predicting that paying by plastic debit will overtake cash in 2018, three years earlier than expected.

Debit cards were used 11.6 billion times in 2016, 14% more than the previous year, with just over one in five of these transactions made using contactless. Cash was still the most frequently used payment method in 2016, used for 15.4 billion payments (3.8 billion more occasions than debit cards). Four out of ten payments in 2016 were made using cash.

Analysis by Payments UK suggests that by 2018, 13.4 billion debit card payments are predicted, of which 4.6 billion (or one in three) are expected to be contactless. Cash is expected to be used for 13.3 billion payments in 2018, meaning it won’t be the most frequently used payment method for the first time.

Adrian Buckle, chief economist at Payments UK, says: “The popularity of contactless means that we expect debit cards to overtake cash as the UK’s most frequently used payment method in late 2018, three years earlier than we previously thought. This is a significant shift but it’s vital to note that even in the face of this change, we believe any claims the UK will soon become a cashless society are wide of the mark."

Ten-year forecasts put together by the industry body suggest that cash payments will decline by 43% to 8.7 billion (but still comprising 21% of all payments), while debit cards will account for 18.2 billion transactions, up by 57%, with one-in-four of all payments expected to be contatless.

Despite the progress, the UK is still lagging behind some of its European neighbours. In the Netherlands, for instance, debit card payments overtook cash in 2015 and currently commands 55% of all point-of-sale transactions.

Comments: (3)

Jeremy Light
Jeremy Light - Fourdotzero - London 25 May, 2017, 11:01Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

4.6bn contactless UK debit card transactions by 2018 looks on the low side. The stats on the UK Cards Association website already show 1bn contactless debit txns in Q1 2017, almost 2.5 x the volume of Q1 2016. Applying this multiple (which has been fairly consistent for the past few years) to the 2.5bn contactless debit in 2016 suggests at least 6bn txns for 2017, I reckon it could turn out higher still, perhaps 7bn - 9bn transactions.

The implications of this is that cash is disappearing far faster than most realise, but without innovation of digital alternatives to preserve the benefits and financial inclusivity of cash - anonymity, ubiquity of acceptance, no intermediaries, no registration, immediate finality etc.

Contactles is great, but the technology is a decade old - bring on the innovation.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 26 May, 2017, 03:10Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I completely agree with Jeremy Light's comment above. Especially when he refers to the 'financial inclusivity of cash' as being especially desirable by most people who would like to see the transition to a cashless society to mimic as far as possible all of the advantages of cash being present in digital form. That being, 'anonymity, (the) ubiquity of acceptance,  no intermediaries, no registration, immediate finality etc.'

I absolutely agree with all of these points. Any cashless society worth mentioning must make every single person come out in front. Nobody must be left behind. The poor, the homeless, the physically and intellectually disabled, any person who has visual challenges especially any person who has no visual sight.

Every single person no matter what their predicament in life may be must see, feel and realise, that any future move to a cashless society must successfully solve any problem, encompass and successfully include every person and their families, any government and business functionality, no matter what their circumstances or problems may be.   

Robin Setty
Robin Setty - ACI Worldwide (EMEA) Limited - Watford 26 May, 2017, 09:25Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I'm as much in favour of the move from cash to digital as the next man but I do worry that the implications on socitey's disenfranchised (homeless, micro-charities etc...) might be overlooked.