Making payments in Germany in 2020, the year of COVID-19: card-based and contactless payments trending

Many citizens have adjusted their payment behaviour during the coronavirus pandemic. “According to a representative Bundesbank survey in 2020, the importance of cashless payment methods, especially cards, in everyday expenditures has been growing considerably,” said Burkhard Balz, the member of the Bundesbank Executive Board responsible for cashless payments. 30% of all recorded payments at the point of sale, for recreation activities, in online commerce and in other situations were made using a card, 9 percentage points higher than in 2017’s payment behaviour study. Meanwhile, cash payments accounted for a share of 60%, compared with 74% three years ago.

According to the survey, 30% of payments in retail outlets, including petrol stations and pharmacies, were made with girocard. Looked at in terms of payment value, girocard made up an even larger share, at 48%. While smaller amounts were mostly still paid using banknotes and coins, respondents were more likely to use a card for sums upwards of €20. Accordingly, cash was used in 61% of transactions and accounted for 38% of payments in store when measured in terms of value. 

Contactless card payment was a key force in this development and is becoming increasingly commonplace. 78% of respondents in possession of a contactless girocard used it to make payments, while two-thirds of those with a contactless credit card did so. The trend was fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. “More than one-fifth of the respondents who made contactless payments tried this out for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic,” explained Executive Board member Mr Balz. Around half of the respondents said this was because of signs in stores or better hygiene. Among the respondents, the shift to this mode of payment was made more frequently by people over the age of 55 and women.

Unlike contactless card payments, payments using a smartphone have not yet taken root among the general public. On average, only 13% of surveyed smartphone owners stated that they had used their devices to make payments at the point of sale. 70% of respondents not making mobile payments saw no need. Many regarded mobile payments as too insecure or too complicated. Younger people under the age of 45, however, displayed a more open attitude and were already using smartphones to pay more frequently than the average respondents. 

At the same time, the current account remains pivotal to the handling of payments in Germany: 99% of survey respondents had a current account. Of these, 79% do their banking business online, and of these, 76% via their bank’s website and 48% using their bank’s app. Third-party online banking apps are currently still a niche product.

Background of the survey
Since 2008, the Bundesbank has been regularly conducting detailed studies on the use of payment instruments. To analyse payment behaviour in a year shaped by the coronavirus pandemic, a random sample of 5,022 citizens were polled by telephone and online questionnaire between August and October 2020. They then kept a diary for one or three days in which they documented their payment habits. Unlike in previous years, the coronavirus pandemic made in-person interviews impossible this time around. As a result, direct comparability of the survey with previous payment behaviour studies may be impaired. The survey offers a reflection of current payment behaviour.