The European Central Bank (ECB) has published the findings of commissioned research on citizens’ payment habits and their attitudes towards digital payments in order to gain a deeper understanding of user preferences as part of the digital euro project.
Based on the responses of focus groups and online communities across all euro area countries, the report shows a strong preference for payment methods with pan-European reach and universal acceptance in physical shops and online. Participants valued the possibility of instant and contactless person-to-person payments, regardless of the platform or device. Focus group respondents also wished for a one-stop-solution that would incorporate all the current payment options into one system.
Safety and security were a concern among respondents, who sought guarantees against fraud and hacking, as well as secure and reliable payment authentication methods. Biometric methods of payment verification, such as those involving iris scan technology, were widely supported by participants, while flexible and adjustable privacy settings were seen as desirable.
“We want the digital euro to add value for end users and merit their confidence,” says ECB executive board member Fabio Panetta, chair of the High-Level Task Force on a digital euro. “A digital euro could enhance European payments by providing a universally accepted and secure solution that facilitates contactless and instant payments.”
On the issue of user privacy and anonymity in transactions, Panetta says tthe ECB is exploring an offline functionality whereby holdings, balances and transaction amounts would not be known to anyone but the user. To contain the risks, these balances and private offline payments would have an upper limit.
"In general, a greater degree of privacy could be considered for lower-value online and offline payments," he says. "These payments could be subject to simplified AML/CFT checks, while higher-value transactions would remain subject to the standard controls.
Consumers surveyed by the ECB demonstrated little knowledge of the digital euro, but they generally agreed that banks and/or central banks would be the safest and most reliable providers. They also expressed the view that a digital euro should not undermine cash.
"Given their importance now and in the future, payments in e-commerce and physical stores, as well as person-to-person payments, are natural candidates to be prioritised among the possible use cases of a digital euro. The digital euro could also be used for payments between governments and individuals, for example to pay out public welfare allowances or to pay taxes, says Panetta. "If a digital euro offered these payment options, we would achieve network effects, continue to ensure public access and full usability of central bank money for digital payments, and help to address sovereignty concerns. In the next steps of our investigation phase, we will therefore focus on assessing the actual feasibility of these use cases."
He says the findings from the user research will feed into the ongoing digital euro investigation phase, which is expected to conclude in October 2023.