Belgians paying more and more by card and are dissatisfied with the dearth of ATMs

Over the past three years, the share of transactions settled in cash has fallen from 57% to 45% in Belgium.  Furthermore, in no other country in Europe are there so many complaints about the availability of ATMs, a number which has also risen sharply. These are some of the findings of a recent large-scale survey on payment attitudes in the euro area carried out by the European Central Bank, the results of which were published today.

Since 2016, the ECB has carried out its Study on the Payment Attitudes of Consumers in the Euro Area (SPACE) every three years. SPACE looks at payments made by individuals at physical points of sale (POS), payments between individuals (person-to-person or P2P payments) and remote payments (online shopping, purchases by phone and mail, bill payments and periodic payments). In the latest survey, 2,975 Belgian residents participated, thus allowing for reliable conclusions to be drawn. This press release highlights the main findings for Belgium. For European figures and trends, please see the ECB’s press release, published today, available here.

Cash versus card

Cash is still the most commonly used means of payment at points of sale in Europe (59% of transactions), but this share is steadily declining (in 2019, it was 72%).  In Belgium, cash is used by 45% of consumers at points of sale on average. In 2019, this figure was 57%, meaning there has been a 12% drop in only three years.

Card payments account for 48% of transactions in the country. Indeed, Belgium is one of only four countries in the Eurosystem where cards have overtaken cash as a means of payment. Online payments are also on the rise in Belgium. In three years, the share of online payments in total payment traffic rose from 13% to 24%. E-commerce is no stranger to this trend. The ECB notes that the Covid-19 lockdowns and concomitant restrictions certainly hastened the decline of cash payments. In fact, 5% of Belgian points of sale now no longer accept cash, compared with 2% in 2019.

Belgium lags behind on contactless payments

One noteworthy finding is that the country is lagging far behind when it comes to contactless payments. This was already the case in 2019, and the situation has not improved in the meantime. Indeed, Belgium came in last place. While on average 62% of card payments are contactless in the euro area, this figure is only 39% in Belgium. The distance between Belgium and the frontrunner, Cyprus (88%), is thus vast.

ATM availability an issue

Belgians continue to find it important to be able to pay with cash. Of those surveyed, 31% feel that cash payments are important and 33% “fairly” important. Only the Austrians, Germans, Cypriots and Irish attach even more importance to being able to pay with cash. This does not mean, however, that people find cash user-friendly, as barely 19% prefer a well-stocked wallet to a bank card.

In fact, the average Belgian wallet contains around €97 euros in notes and coins at the start of the day. The closure of many bank branches in recent years and the disappearance of cash machines (ATMs) are clearly a source of frustration. Nowhere else in Europe is the lack of availability of cash complained of as much as in Belgium or is the number of complaints rising so rapidly. According to the survey, 46% of the EU population has no problem obtaining cash through ATMs or bank branches while 40% finds it fairly easy to do so. Needless to say, this opinion is not shared in Belgium: 27% of respondents indicated that they find it difficult to get their hands on cash, an increase of 12%. In the rest of the Eurosystem, only 9% of respondents on average complained of this fact and, with the exception of the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Spain, there was no significant increase in the number of complaints compared to the 2019 survey.