Europe heading for a contactless future

The US may be the centre for Apple Pay, but it’s Europe where the real contactless revolution is happening.

Three recent reports paint the picture.


The number of MasterCard and Maestro contactless transactions in Europe rose 150 percent last year to hit the one billion mark. In the final three months of the year, more than one in ten (13 percent) of in-store payments were contactless, the card giant reported.

In addition, we can see that the total contactless spend on MasterCard and Maestro grew 183 percent from 2014, alongside an increase of 50 percent in the number of contactless cards and devices issued.

Merchants are clearly taking note as last year saw a 72 percent increase in the number of contactless merchant locations compared to 2014. In the Czech Republic, four in five (77 percent) of in-store transactions processed by MasterCard were contactless. In Poland, the figure is 55 percent.

There are more than 10 countries in Europe that can boast of over 5 million contactless cards or devices – each of which can be used in 74 different countries globally.


Meanwhile, Visa Europe’s report on the UK argues that the nation has become a “cash-second nation”  as shoppers instead turn to electronic payments through cards, phones or even wearable devices.

For the first time in the UK, last year saw more payments made electronically than with notes and coins and it seems like contactless is playing a huge part. At the same time, Visa Europe also saw an increase in spend of nearly ten percent at the point-of-sale last year, and an increase in the number of transactions of 11.5 percent.

For Visa, contactless transactions now make up one in every seven payments made. Again, the pace of change is startling – a year ago it was just one in 25.

Visa’s UK and Ireland managing director, Kevin Jenkins, says contactless has become the “new normal”, adding: “At this rate, cash will be seen as a peculiar way of paying for things in as little as five years’ time.”

That might be overstating the demise of cash somewhat. True, contactless payments displace smaller-value, traditionally cash transactions. But old-fashioned paper money is showing an incredible resilience in the face of all newcomers.

UK Cards Association

Finally, a report from the UK Cards Association, an industry body, found that spending on contactless cards trebled last year to reach £7.75 billion.

It’s the pace of change that is most noteworthy – contactless spending in 2015 was more than double the previous seven years combined. And it’s happening by the month, with contactless spending rising 17 percent in December 2015 from the previous month.

A total of 1.05 billion contactless purchases were made in the UK in 2015 – a huge number which is an increase on a massive 228 per cent on the previous year.

Graham Peacop, Chief Executive of The UK Cards Association, comments: “The swift increase in contactless usage continued apace last year, with nearly one in eight card transactions now using the technology.

Why contactless?

As MasterCard notes, contactless offers speed, convenience and state-of-the-art multi-layered security protection.

Mr Peacop from the UK Cards Association adds: “Whether it’s to stock up in the supermarket, travel to work, or buy your lunch, contactless is a fast, easy and secure way to make payments.

“With a contactless payment, you no longer have to fumble around for the loose change in your purse or wallet. You can simply pay using a contactless card or with your mobile phone.”

But it’s also down to type of transactions we make. Research by Ipsos revealed that nearly half of daily purchases in Europe would come within the typical contactless tap and go limit.  Ensuring the limit remains at a useful level is essential to keeping contactless at the top of the tree, which was why it was so good to see the UK up its maximum spend to £30 from £20 last year.

Written by Andy Brown

Andy Brown

Andy is marketing director for payments at NCR. He has nearly 30 years' experience in e-payment systems from the delivery and support of systems in the Far East and Europe, from both the product management and marketing perspectives. Based in the UK, Andy is responsible for marketing NCR payment solutions.

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