How the Pandemic Accelerated Digital Payments in Asia

June 21, 2021

In SE Asia, cash is still the predominant form of payment. Being from the U.S. and going from paying for my coffee with cards or my smartphone to paying with cash required a mindset change. But that’s where I found myself as the pandemic exploded last year.

I wanted to use my card and phone to make contactless payments, but the acceptance rates were low. But, when covid-19 hit, I was among the local consumers afraid of encountering the virus. So we would sanitize everything we touched – all surfaces, doorknobs, elevator buttons, food, drink items, and even cash.

It has been about a year since the pandemic broke out globally, and it has caused a ripple effect on practically all aspects of our lives – from what we wear, what we eat, how we work, and how we transact with one another. Some developments have been sudden and involuntary, such as social distancing, wearing masks, limiting public transportation, and restrictions on travel. For others, it has merely accelerated the adoption of behaviors already gaining traction, such as digitization of shopping, banking, and more. Thus, the “new normal” has become a fact of everyday life.

When countries went under lockdown, we had to get used to spending a lot of time at home. As a result, working from home became the norm, and online shopping became more necessary than a luxury. However, the thought of going out for groceries or essential items brought concerns and risks of catching the virus from someone. Plus, the hassle of sanitizing oneself upon returning home is exhausting. Besides, online shopping gives consumers a choice and the ability to price compare, while the payment is secure and convenient using debit or credit cards. And there is also an option of transferring funds from bank accounts to the online shopping platform’s e-wallet. Therefore, it’s not surprising that Covid-19 has led to a surge in e-commerce and accelerated digital transformation. In fact, as far back as March 2020, contactless increased 150% compared to March 2019.

Online banking also took on more importance as consumers experiment with performing more self-service banking transactions themselves, so it is no surprise that mobile bank registrations were up 200% and traffic 85% by April 2020. Self-registering for online banking access to existing accounts, opening new current, savings, and time deposit accounts without going into the bank branch, then funding those newly opened accounts by easily transferring funds from another bank have made banking easier and faster. Even sending money domestically and internationally became painless.

After the lockdown, I always made it a point to pay using my phone or my contactless card every time I went out for groceries or essential items. In 2021, the acceptance rates of digital forms of payment have improved greatly, and no merchant has declined me! I guess it’s not surprising as the trend for contactless payments has taken off in the past year.

The experience of living through Covid-19 is changing the world in which we live and our behavior. Changes that provide positive experiences are likely to last longer, particularly those driven by convenience and well-being, such as digital adoption, value-based purchasing, and increased health awareness.

Ruby Chong

Ruby Chong is the Product Manager for Euronet’s Self-Service Payment Solutions which includes customer touch point solutions for Mobile and Internet Banking, Bill Payment, Mobile Recharge, Dynamic Currency Conversion Management, and Campaign Management. She joined Euronet in 1998 and has held several roles within the organization including implementations specialist, software product trainer, technical implementations manager, systems integration director, and test director for the EMEA EFT processing center in Budapest.

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