Cash still dominant payment method in Europe, ECB says

A survey by the ECB finds almost four-fifths of POS transactions in the eurozone used cash in 2016.

The majority of point-of-sale transactions in Europe still rely on cash, indicating that this payment method is still holding strong despite the growing challenge posed by non-cash alternatives such as contactless and mobile options.

This is according to a new report from the European Central Bank (ECB), which found that 79 percent of transactions in the eurozone were carried out using cash in 2016, amounting to 54 percent of the total value of payments.

Credit and debit cards, on the other hand, made up less than a fifth of transactions (19 percent), though they did account for 39 percent of total payment values, indicating how they are prioritized for larger payments, while cash remains the go-to option for lower-value transactions.  

The ECB noted the findings of the study challenge the perception that non-cash payment methods are displacing cash, and suggested one reason for this is that people tend to only remember and prioritize their higher-value payments.

The report found that nearly two-thirds of transactions in 2016 were below €15, with more than two-thirds of all POS transactions taking place in shops for purchases of day-to-day items, as well as in restaurants, bars and cafes.

“When asked about their payment behavior, people mostly seem to remember the larger value payments which they make less regularly, and tend to forget how frequently they make low-value payments on a daily basis,” the ECB stated.

The report also note there is a clear geographical divide across the eurozone, with consumers in southern eurozone countries making more than 80 percent of their POS payments via cash. In northern nations such as Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands, this figure dropped to around 50 percent.

While the ECB suggested that more lower-value payments may shift to non-cash options as technologies such as contactless become more common throughout the eurozone, it noted that cash is still likely to have a role as a store of value as well as a means of payment, as almost a quarter of consumers keep cash at home as a precautionary reserve.

Written by Jack Dougal

Jack Dougal

Jack Dougal is's resident news reporter. He writes regular blogs covering the latest stories and key developments in the global financial services industry.

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