The UAE is still lagging behind other countries in terms of cashless transactions, with only less than a third of consumer payments done electronically, but it is moving at a brisk pace towards a digital economy, a new global study by MasterCard showed.
In its report, “The Cashless Journey”, MasterCard indicated that the UAE is among the few countries in the world that are just beginning their shift away from cash.
Of the total value of consumer transactions in the country, only 26 per cent were made by non-cash methods.
In comparison, countries like Belgium, France, Canada, UK and Sweden are now considered nearly cashless, with electronic payments accounting for more than 80 per cent of the total consumer spend.
“Consumers in this part of the world tend to take out cash for their daily purchases out of sheer habit, which leads to a great percentage of transactions taking place via cash or checks,” explained Eyad Al Kourdi, UAE country manager for MasterCard.
The company has also been looking into consumer habits to understand people’s spending priorities.
Its most recent survey has indicated that the majority of consumers in the country still prefer to use coins and bills over digital money whether they are dining out, grocery shopping or paying for medical expenses.
“Consumer behaviour and their priorities in the Middle East region are quite distinct from other parts of the world; hence the key is to introduce tailored payment solutions that address the daily and lifestyle requirements of the consumers,” Al Kourdi said in response to Gulf News questions.
However, MasterCard’s latest study showed that the UAE is among the economies that are now “most rapidly” moving away from being predominantly cash-dependent.
The report tracked the evolution of consumers’ payment patterns in 33 developed and developing countries from five regions, representing more than 85 per cent of the global gross domestic product.
The report assigned a “trajectory score” to each country in order to establish how the share of cash payments in the total value of consumer transactions has shifted in the five most recent years, between 2006 and 2011.
MasterCard advisors assigned UAE a score of 65, one of the highest in the world, indicating that the use of coins and paper bills is shrinking faster in the UAE than in many markets around the world.
“With a [high trajectory score], the UAE is among the fastest changing payments ecosystems of those countries studied. The main reason for reduced cash share appears to be a substantial share shift from cash to debit cards between 2006 and 2011,” the report said.
The report also looked into the countries’ “readiness” in moving away from paper money.
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The UAE garnered a readiness score of 69, the highest among countries that are just beginning their shift away from cash. Other markets like India, Russia, Indonesia and Egypt got scores below 30.
“The UAE has eliminated many of the typical macro-economic barriers of creating a cashless society.
The new study also notes that the UAE is among a group of countries where the respective governments have taken strong leadership in promoting electronic payments to support their social and economic goals, the report said.
Considered a big boost to the promotion of cashless payments is the implementation of key government initiatives in the UAE like the Wage Protection System (WPS) that has considerably increased access to digital payment methods over a short period of time.
“[The UAE’s] investment in the basics of payment infrastructure is leading to a strong growth towards a cashless society,” added Al Kourdi.
Al Kourdi said that while cashless payments acceptance is prevalent in the UAE, it is still “important to further educate consumers about the benefits of using” the available payment solutions.
“Cashless payments offer an abundance of benefits to consumers, ranging from safety and convenience to tailored lifestyle benefits and rewards to suit their everyday needs,” he added.