The UK is swiftly becoming a cashless society. Despite the fact that the new pound coin was introduced into circulation a month ago on 28th March 2017, it’s taking a long time to penetrate into society with a large proportion (43%[i]) of the UK population still yet received one. According to research by cross border e-payment specialist, PPRO Group, 59.4% of us believe that the UK will be a cashless society soon, 12% feel that this will happen within five years time, and a surprising four per cent think that physical money will be obsolete in less than two years time.
Physical money is fast becoming redundant in today’s increasingly connected society with a third (33%) of the UK stating that they never use cash anymore. Unsurprisingly this figure rises to 51% among millennials, while the older generation are stoically sticking to the coins in their purses as only 27% prefer to shop online. Given the option 26% of us would never choose to pay cash when buying an item in a shop. In fact, more than a quarter of us (26.35%) find it irritating when we have to pay by cash rather than by card.
It’s not just consumers who are moving away from cash – more businesses than ever are becoming cashless. Airlines for example, often don’t accept cash for on-board purchases now. In the UK, payments generally orbit the plastic in our wallet and increasingly, our mobile phones. £288m was spent through mobile contactless payments in the UK in 2016 with 38 million transactions carried out across the year. This was a 247 per cent increase on the year before, with the most notable lift being from payments made via Android Pay. Pubs, bars and restaurants, the places perhaps most likely to be an outlet to spend the cash burning a hole in our pockets, actually made up 20 per cent of all mobile contactless payments it processed. ‘Meal deal’ hotspots for workers buying lunch – such as supermarkets and grocery stores – accounted for 54 per cent.
It’s not just coins and paper money which are being used less and less in today’s society, ATMs have less use with 44% of us stating that we rarely use them to remove cash anymore.
“Last month the Royal Mint undertook its potential last ‘flip of the coin’ by introducing an updated £1 coin into circulation. With the same shape as the old 12-sided three pence piece or ‘three penny bit’, its makers claim it will be the most secure coin in the world. The current £1 coin it replaces has been in circulation for over thirty years and is deemed to be vulnerable to ever more sophisticated counterfeiters. But how long will we be using this currency? The UK is swiftly moving towards a new currency or cultural phenomenon – the cashless society.” Said Simon Black, CEO of PPro Group. “The popularity of mobile and contactless payments clearly demonstrates the acceptance of change when it comes to payments in the UK. The current, or old pound coin, has been in our pockets for more than thirty years. I predict a much shorter lifespan for this new coin which I anticipate will be nothing more than a collector’s item in less than ten years. The tooth fairy had better start looking at alternative payment methods!”
The popularity of online, mobile and contactless payments has demonstrated, more than anything, the acceptance of change when it comes to payments in the UK, with the biggest change, total removal of cash, still yet to come.
Sunak promises to do ‘whatever it takes’ to shield the economy
LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Rishi Sunak plans to say in a budget speech on Wednesday that he will do “whatever it takes” to support the economy, and that the task of fixing the public finances will only begin once the country is recovering from the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re using the full measure of our fiscal firepower to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the British people,” Sunak will say, according to excerpts of the speech to parliament released by the finance ministry on Tuesday.
“First, we will continue doing whatever it takes to support the British people and businesses through this moment of crisis,” he said in the excerpts.
“Second, once we are on the way to recovery, we will need to begin fixing the public finances â€“ and I want to be honest today about our plans to do that. And, third, in today’s budget we begin the work of building our future economy.”
Britain has suffered the biggest COVID-19 death toll in Europe and the heaviest economic shock among big rich countries, according to the headline measures of official data, after shrinking by 10% last year, its worst slump in three centuries.
Sunak has so far spent almost 300 billion pounds ($419 billion) on emergency support measures and tax cuts.
But Britain has also rushed out Europe’s fastest COVID-19 vaccination programme, raising the prospect of an economic bounce-back once its current, third lockdown is relaxed.
Sunak said in media interviews on Sunday that he would not rush to start addressing Britain’s yawning budget deficit, which is approaching 400 billion pounds – its highest as a share of the economy since World War Two.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to lift lockdown measures gradually, starting with next week’s reopening of schools in England, before most measures are removed by late June.
Sunak is expected to announce an extension of his emergency support measures, including huge income subsidies that are on track to cost more than 100 billion pounds, to provide a bridge for the economy until then.
But he has also said he will “level with people” about how Britain’s 2.1 trillion-pound debt pile would carry on growing without action, which is likely to mean future tax increases.
(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Catherine Evans)
UK gilt issuance to be second-highest on record at almost 250 billion pounds – Reuters poll
By Andy Bruce
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is likely to sell nearly 250 billion pounds ($347 billion) of government bonds in the coming financial year – the second-highest total on record – to help power an economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, a Reuters poll of dealers showed on Tuesday.
The survey of all 15 wholesale primary dealers, or banks tasked by the government with creating a market for its bonds, pointed to gilt issuance of about 247.2 billion pounds for the 2021/22 financial year starting in April.
Such a sum marks a sharp drop from the 485.5 billion pounds of gilts that the United Kingdom Debt Management Office (DMO) plans to issue in the current 2020/21 year to finance the economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak is due to deliver his budget around 1230 GMT on Wednesday, after which the DMO will publish its 2021/22 gilt issuance remit.
Sunak has said he would not rush to fix the public finances as he readies a budget, which will add more borrowing to almost 300 billion pounds of COVID-19 spending and tax cuts.
In November, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecast borrowing in 2020/21 would reach 393.5 billion pounds, or 19% of GDP, a peacetime record. The latest official data suggests borrowing will fall below this, partly because more taxpayers than expected have opted against deferring payments to 2021/22.
The poll showed Sunak is expected to announce a budget deficit forecast for 2021/22 of 180 billion pounds, 16 billion pounds more than the OBR had predicted in November.
“Our current estimate is that the latest lockdown will ‘cost’ around 16 billion pounds in terms of additional fiscal support,” said RBC economist Cathal Kennedy.
He cited the fact that more workers are now furloughed than the OBR had assumed in November, as well as expanded support for self-employed people and business grants announced in January.
In addition to the budget deficit, the government must also refinance 79.3 billion pounds of gilts due to mature in 2021/22.
As in the current year, much of the issuance will be soaked up by the Bank of England’s asset-purchase programme, which is due to buy around 100 billion pounds of government debt during the next financial year.
The poll suggested the government will finance borrowing almost entirely through gilts in the next financial year, rather than additional issuance of T-bills or via the government’s retail investment arm.
The DMO is likely to ramp up its issuance of inflation-linked gilts in 2021/22 to around 14% of the total, compared with 7% in the current financial year, the poll showed.
The DMO reined in sales of index-linked gilts through most of 2020 due to uncertainty caused by a review into the future of the retail prices index measure of inflation, which is used to price the bonds.
“Given pent-up demand, we think that this target is achievable,” said Deutsche Bank analysts Sanjay Raja and Panos Giannopoulos.
The dealers did not expect much change in the split between short, medium and long-dated gilts. Britain already has a longer average maturity for its debt than any other major economy, but the recent jump in global bond yields has prompted some commentators to say the DMO should do more to lock in low rates.
The government has also said it will issue the first “green gilts” – bonds to finance environmentally friendly projects – in 2021/22. Most respondents expect one or two bonds to be issued, of around 10 billion pounds in total.
(Reporting by Andy Bruce, editing by Larry King)
Why local currency payments are critical to cross-border commerce success
By Nikhita Hyett, Managing Director – Europe at BlueSnap
Online shopping has been a lifeline for many during the pandemic. But with the increased volume of online orders, one area that’s been overlooked is the importance of local currency options.
As more transactions are made on mobile devices, customer service channels proliferate and social media becomes a popular sales channel, merchants around the world are closer to their customers than ever before.
But this increased proximity doesn’t always translate when customers hit the buy button.
When shopping online, I’m often shown ads from businesses who sell to me and ship to me, yet their pricing is in euros or US dollars. We hear a lot from sellers about offering a personalised customer experience in the age of e-commerce, but a failure to make the transaction feel local is holding them back.
In fact, it still surprises me how many merchants don’t offer customers the ability to pay in their local currency, even though this move could increase their conversions by an average of 12% according to BlueSnap data.
Any online business would agree that the checkout process is the most important part of the purchase journey – and should be as a simple and painless as possible.
But when presentment currencies, or the currency a customer is charged in, differs from that of their local geography, buyers are often left confused and struggling to calculate costs when making a purchase from an international seller.
This prompts shoppers to leave the checkout page to convert costs – creating a major barrier to sale at the point of conversion. Friction enters the buyer’s journey, and businesses see an increase in purchase abandonment.
Disputes and chargebacks
Even if a customer perseveres with the transaction, that’s not always the end of the story. Another major benefit of offering local currency payments is that customers are less likely to challenge the final total of cross-border transactions.
But if there’s confusion around exchange rates, customers are entitled to dispute the transaction with their bank, which can result in a lost sale in the form of a chargeback fee for the vendor.
This is a lose-lose for sellers which not only miss out on revenue due to increased purchase abandonment but also post-purchase disputes around order settlement.
If that wasn’t enough, buyers who have encountered friction in the purchase journey are unlikely to be satisfied with their experience, deterring them from making repeat purchases, recommending the business or leaving a positive review.
Brexit and cross-border fees
But going truly local extends beyond currencies and the customer experience – and can have a big impact on a company’s bottom line. In a post-Brexit world, businesses can take the localisation of their payment processes a giant leap further through local acquiring.
Following the introduction of new trading laws for cross-border sales in January, Mastercard has announced that it’s hiking interchange fees for UK merchants fivefold for all online purchases made by EU cardholders.
The increase will see interchange fees between the UK and the European Economic Area (EEA) rise from 0.3% to 1.5% – with these transactions now defined as ‘inter-regional’ – and other banks likely to follow suit.
In practice, this means UK merchants will now have to pay a higher proportion of the sale to the payments provider for enabling cross-border transactions within the EEA, and vice versa, reducing profit margins on every purchase.
At a time when retailers are already having to adapt to new regulations and Brexit ‘red tape’, they now face another unenviable choice. Absorb these increased costs or pass them on to customers by raising the price of products or services – a move that could deter future sales.
Avoiding interchange fees
But there is another way. E-commerce sellers can avoid cross-border fees altogether by routing payments through local banks in the same region as the cardholder.
By localising the transaction, it’s estimated that merchants can reduce cross-border fees from card issuers by 1% – meaning a total saving of £100,000 for every £10 million in sales.
Of course, if this were simple, the debate over cross border fees would be long over.
To process a transaction locally requires merchants to have a legal entity in each region they sell to. This used to mean that the more online business a retailer does, the more connections they need and the more complex this process becomes.
On average, international sellers have five different payment gateways to route cross-border transactions via local banks – with the costs of developing and maintaining this infrastructure able to quickly outweigh the savings of processing payments locally.
A better way
Thankfully, new technology is changing all that. With the next generation of fintechs ‘rebundling’ financial services under one roof, forward-thinking businesses are taking advantage of all-in-one solutions that automate payment routing via a network of local acquiring banks.
By harnessing innovative payments technology, which automatically recognises card types, location of issue and local currency, merchants can effectively localise any incoming payment from any customer, anywhere in the world – through a single integration.
In doing so, they’re also able to increase payment authorisation rates, as banks are more likely to approve purchases made locally.
With e-commerce experiencing its strongest growth in over a decade last year, merchants understandably want to embrace the opportunities brought about by this exciting shift in the way we buy and sell goods.
As the rise in online sales shows no sign of slowing down, those businesses that offer local currency payments can transform the customer experience and increase conversions, while merchants that embrace local acquiring will make their bottom line soar.
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