Cash is used less and less but is still a major means of payment in Belgium

The number of transactions in cash is falling but is still very high in Belgium, according to a new study by the European Central Bank on payments in the euro area. In our country, an average of 58 % of all payments were still made in cash in 2019. That is a drop of 5 percentage points on 2016.

In 2019, the European Central Bank carried out a wide-ranging study into payment behaviour in the euro area (Study on the Payment Attitudes of Consumers in the Euro area – SPACE). A similar analysis of the use of cash had also been conducted in 2016. The SPACE study focused on payments made by private individuals in physical points of sale (POS) and on a person-to-person basis (P2P), as well as on remote payments (i.e. for online shopping, purchases over the telephone and by mail order, account payments and periodic payment orders).

This press release puts the spotlight on figures for Belgium. Wider European statistics and trends are reported in the ECB’s press release, which was also published today and can be read here.

In the euro area, payments are still predominantly made in cash, despite major differences, especially between the Northern and Southern Member States. More than 73% of point-of-sale and person-to-person retail transactions were still settled in cash in 2019. In Belgium, the share of payments in cash came to 58 % and accounted for 33 % of the value of all transactions.

The use of cash is nevertheless falling in Belgium (it still made up 63 % of point-of-sale and person-to-person payments in 2016, a decline of 5 percentage points), albeit less rapidly than in countries like the Netherlands, Austria, Finland or France. To find out whether the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the use of cash, the ECB conducted an additional survey in 2020, which revealed that more than half the Belgian respondents confirmed that they had used cash less since the outbreak of the pandemic. It should nevertheless be noted that owing to the closure of shops and other places where cash payments are widely used, this observation has to be treated with caution.

More than 40 % of the Belgians who took part in the survey said they were worried about contracting COVID-19 by handling banknotes and coins, despite the ECB’s advice on the subject, which deemed the risk of infection in this way to be minimal.

Contactless still not very popular in Belgium

The SPACE survey carried out in 2019 also shows that, in comparison to their European fellow citizens, Belgians make very few daily payments on average. While a Greek makes 2.02 payments in cash or by card every day and a Dutch person 1.76, the average Belgian counts no more than 1.38. Only the French, the Maltese and Estonians are less active on the payments front than the Belgians. For cash payments (at a point of sale or person to person), Belgians spend on average less than € 20, while for card payments it is €30.

It is worth noting that, according to the SPACE survey, Belgium is lagging far behind in terms of cashless payments. Only 16 % of the Belgians who took part in the survey settled their transactions in 2019 without inserting a card into a payment terminal. In the euro area, contactless payments accounted for 39 % of all payments by card in 2019.

For their online shopping, more than 49 % of Belgians opted for card payments in 2019, while 20 % preferred an electronic payment solution. In 2019, Belgians made 0.2 purchases online per day on average, above the euro area average (0.15 purchases).