Retail payments usually reflect trends that illustrate the dynamics of the economic activity, on a given country, region, city, etc. The pandemic situation of COVID-19 certainly provides a picture of the evolution of such trends, with impacts felt all over the world, even if on different stages and on different degrees, while consequences will take time to be adequately and fully measured.

However, similarly to any crisis, this one also presents its own opportunities: evolving retail payment habits towards more efficiency and user-friendliness, with quicker and secure transactions, enhancing a policy line followed, and fostered by policymakers over the years. Particularly in Europe and the euro area, since the inception of SEPA, where retail payments became borderless based on common standards and procedures for core products, that has been the direction taken.

The current circumstances set up a more visible need to adopt more common practices. With lockdown and with a sanitary goal of increasing overall hygiene in the society, several were the cases where regulation came to facilitate remote transactions and in face-to-face situations to increase the use of contactless payments. For this, a key factor was the increase of the maximum amount per transaction, in Portugal and other countries, fixed at 50 EUR since late-March.

With online purchases growing markedly during the more severe periods of lockdown, also with instant payments available in several jurisdictions, when rules started to be less rigid and more mobility was allowed as of mid-May and through June, also the usage of contactless payments got more into the daily habits of consumers and merchants alike. As a result, year-on-year averages and volumes significantly grew to more efficient levels and there is potential to continue such a trend. Amounts spent on transactions completed via contactless almost doubled.

It remains to be seen whether new habits really came to stay, including e-commerce, where trust by users is paramount. Time will tell if consumers will keep the newly acquired payment behaviors when we reach a stage of more normal activity. An interesting trend to be followed. And fostered.

The country case for Portugal will be presented, focusing on recent trends, during Group Futurista’s 2nd edition of the ‘Future of Contactless Payments post COVID-19’ webinar, on 27th August 2020 at 14:00 hours BST.