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Data Snack: Cross-border payments prepare to digitize; cards and ATMs lose their sheen

  • Consumers and businesses alike now demand fast cross-border payments, but current systems can only go so far.
  • Newer technologies like APIs, tokenization, and blockchain come with the promise of secure lines and instant settlements.

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Data Snack: Cross-border payments prepare to digitize; cards and ATMs lose their sheen

In a recent report, the Bank of England forecasted that cross-border payment volume will swell up to $250 trillion – indicating an increase of over $100 trillion from half a decade ago in 2017. Couple that with the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest white paper calling cross-border payments the next frontier for disruption, and you have an exciting industry that’s growing, innovating, and lucrative.

The white paper argues that the disruption has, in part, been caused by the Russia-Ukraine war. Economies are eager to connect their fast payment systems in a bid to bypass middlemen and make moving money cheaper. Southeast Asian countries are already working on this, as they make it easier for travelers to acquire products and services by simply scanning QR codes.

The white paper also forecasts that there will be fewer ATMs, and that payment cards too will suffer, as digital payments continue penetrating the market. The pandemic-fueled pace of growth in digital payments is, however, expected to slow down. 

In this data snack, let’s look deeper into the EIU’s findings.

Consumers and businesses demand the digitization of cross-border payments

The pandemic triggered a move to digital for consumers, which consequently led businesses to establish a digital presence – with a focus on creating good customer experiences. The sharp increase witnessed in 2020-2021 led to the development of embedded finance and BaaS offerings, which streamlined consumers’ demand for financial services with their needs for other products and services.

The report’s findings suggest that consumers have been faster to adopt modern digital solutions for cross-border payments than SMBs, though both have a clear preference for digital. The most popular method used for cross-border transactions by consumers was found to be a mobile wallet, while for SMBs it was bank websites.

Cash and checks, the kings of yesterday, have fallen sharply in preference and are now among the least preferred methods of payment.

Consumers demand the speed and ease of domestic payments to now be extended to cross-border payments. This means real-time settlements, application programming interfaces, and open banking need to make it on an international scale.

There are several problems with the existing legacy system used for international payments, like high costs, long settlement times, cumbersome processes, and a lack of standardization. The SWIFT network has come under scrutiny for its inflexibility and lack of transparency. 

Today’s technology, though, offers tools to address those problems and comprehensively bring cross-border payments to the digital age.

EIU sees a future of cross-border payments that is dominated by technologies like APIs, tokenization, blockchain, and real-time payments.

Domestic payments growth to stagnate; ATMs and payment cards to suffer

For the next five years, though, this growth in domestic digital payments is expected to stagnate because of a strong base. Furthermore, this growth in digital and mobile payments spells trouble for payment cards and cash, hence causing a decline in ATMs.

Between 2018 and 2022:

  • The total number of ATMs globally went up by 0.2%;
  • Credit cards went up by 6.1%;
  • Debit cards went up by 7.1%.

Going forward, between 2022 and 2026, EIU forecasts:

  • Growth in ATMs will remain flat;
  • Credit cards will grow by 3%;
  • Debit cards will grow by 3.7%.

In Western countries, cards play a much more critical role in the digital payments landscape. While it’s common to see them embedded in payment experiences, in the Asia-Pacific region, digital payments are usually tied to mobile or bank accounts. And hence, as that region goes digital, it will leave cards behind on a much greater scale.

Even in card-dominated economies, cards will see a sharp decline in prevalence. Card companies like Visa and Mastercard recognize that as they continue acquiring tech companies to keep up with the changing industry.

There are, however, some advantages exclusive to cards that grant them some immunity. These include insurance and payback schemes.

As people continue to demand faster and more secure payments, legacy methods are losing their sheen, with new technologies making processes smoother and faster than ever before.

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