UAE eighth in global ranking of most cashless economies

Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore are most likely to fully switch to e-payments and e-wallets, report finds

The UAE ranks as the eighth most cashless society in the world as the pandemic spurs the already fast-growing digital payments sector in the country, according to a new report.

The ranking is topped by Canada, which is most likely to be the first country in the world to banish banknotes in exchange for electronic payments and e-wallets, the Cashless Countries report by UK-based price comparison website money.co.uk found.

Hong Kong is the world’s second-most cashless economy, followed by Singapore, according to the ranking.

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In the past 12 months, we’ve witnessed more than 40 countries increase the limits for contactless payments
James Andrews, senior personal finance expert at money.co.uk

“Even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, we were beginning to see a global shift away from paper money towards electronic payments. However, the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated this,” James Andrews, a senior personal finance expert at money.co.uk, said.

“In the past 12 months, we’ve witnessed more than 40 countries increase the limits for contactless payments.”

The report analysed data from the World Bank, debit and credit card providers and e-wallet operators to gauge levels of cashless and contact-free payment methods in different countries. The criteria included a percentage of the population (aged above 15) with a credit card and a debit card, the number of ATMs per 100,000 people, contactless payment limits and number of major e-wallet operators in a country.

Globally, Covid-19 has spurred a faster adoption of digital payments, particularly contactless payments, due to heightened awareness about the spread of the virus through banknotes and plastic money.

Almost two-thirds of people in the UAE, or 64 per cent, expect the country to become fully cashless by 2030, according to a poll by Standard Chartered last year.

About 83 per cent of Canada’s population (aged above 15) own a credit card, accounting for the highest usage in the world, according to World Bank data. Canada also has the highest contactless payment limit in the world at 250 Canadian dollars ($202.70).

It is followed by Hong Kong, with 83 per cent of over-15s possessing a debit card. Four major e-wallets, including Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and Alipay, are also being used, according to money.co.uk.

In third-placed Singapore, about 92 per cent of people own a debit card and there are four major e-wallets in operation in the country, where the contactless payment limit is set at 200 Singaporean dollars ($148.90). In New Zealand, which ranked fourth, the contactless payment limit was raised by 150 per cent to 200 New Zealand dollars ($141.70) from 80 dollars last year, the report found.

Japan claimed the fifth spot. Until the pandemic, when countries increased their contactless payment limits to reduce virus transmission, Japan had the highest contactless payment limit in the world. It is currently set at ¥20,000 ($180.50).

Australia, Norway, the UAE, Switzerland and Finland round out the top 10 cashless economies globally, according to money.co.uk.

Australians also have access to four major e-wallet operators and 98 per cent of Norwegians own a debit card, the report found. Norges Bank estimates that only 3 to 4 per cent of transactions in Norway are conducted using banknotes and coins.

Meanwhile, the UAE is likely to become the first cashless country in the Middle East, with 83 per cent of its population owning a debit card and four major e-wallet providers in operation.

Two-thirds of the Swiss population own a credit card and the contactless payment limit is set at 80 Swiss francs ($86.70), the money.co.uk report said. In Finland, 98 per cent of people own a debit card and 63 per cent own a credit card.

In the UK, ranked 11th, nine in 10 people own a debit card and two-thirds own a credit card, according to the report's findings.

“The move away from banknotes and coins towards plastic payments and e-wallets presents many advantages,” Mr Andrews said.

Cashless payments allow for quick and easy transactions when international travel fully resumes, and the creation of digital paper trails could help to reduce tax fraud and money laundering, he added.

However, “as with many technological advancements, there is some concern that the change could leave vulnerable individuals behind”.

Any move towards a fully cashless economy will need to be met with infrastructural changes, as well as potentially legislative ones, Mr Andrews added.

Top 10 cashless economies in the world

  1. Canada
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Singapore
  4. New Zealand
  5. Japan
  6. Australia
  7. Norway
  8. UAE
  9. Switzerland
  10. Finland
Updated: July 7th 2021, 4:00 AM
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