The Future of Cash and Mobile Payments in Covid Times
As the Coronavirus pandemic progresses around the globe, should the public stop using cash as a source of the virus spread? The question has reached its peak when the number of infected cases exceeded 247,400, with the death toll of 10,070 people.
Banknotes feared to be a source of coronavirus spread
The story started in March with comments made by the World Health Organization (WHO) to the British newspapers:
“Banknotes may be spreading the new coronavirus so people should try to use contactless payments instead, the World Health Organization has said.”The Telegraph
While another article contained the following comment:
“The World Health Organization has advised public against using paper money.”The Daily Mail
World media picked up the story, receiving immediate viral effect.
The beginning of banknotes’ quarantine to stop coronavirus spread
The Central Banks of China, the USA and South Korea took the necessary precautions to limit the contaminated money supply in circulation.
▪ Chinese Central Bank has allocated new banknotes to reinforce cash supply in Hubei province, the most afflicted area, and has adopted special measures to disinfect the cash in circulation.
▪ South Korea’s central bank is quarantining banknotes for two weeks.
▪ The U.S. Federal Bank is quarantining US dollars repatriated from Asia for 7 to 10 days before redistributing them in the financial system.
The UK and Australia reacted more calmly.
▪ The Bank of England: “Like any other surface that large numbers of people come into contact with, notes can carry bacteria or viruses. However, the risk posed by handling a polymer note is no greater than touching any other common surfaces such as handrails, doorknobs or credit cards.” No similar money disinfection measures have been announced.
▪ The Australian Department of Health “was not recommending Treasury disinfect currency because it deemed it as low risk”.
The truth behind COVID-19 spread via banknotes and coins
The World Health Organization suggests that coronavirus is mainly person to person transmission through respiratory droplets spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets can land on objects and surfaces around the person and stay on surfaces for a few hours or up to days. Hence, the suggestion that the healthy person handling banknotes, coins and plastic contaminated with coronavirus droplets gets infected.
After the British publications, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib clarified:
“WHO did NOT say banknotes would transmit COVID-19, nor have we issued any warnings or statements about this. We were asked if we thought banknotes could transmit COVID-19 and we said you should wash your hands after handling money, especially if handling or eating food.” Doing so is “good hygiene practice.”
The American state agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), states that transmission of COVID-19 to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented.
The studies confirm that coronavirus remained viable for some time on paper, metals and plastics. Still, the researchers did not investigate the transmission of coronavirus to humans in contact with paper money, coins and plastic cards. Taking precautions would be appropriate.
Coronavirus to accelerate the adoption of mobile payments
As the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe with confirmed cases in 163 countries, the mobile payments will grow. The fear of the virus spread via cash will not be the main driving force, but rather a limitation in the physical movement of people introduced by the governments to stop further spread of COVID-19.
Locked at home and limited in travel, people will switch to online and mobile payments for ordering food and deliveries, paying bills, getting online entertainment and medical services. Business and government services to the business will change. Providing digital services will be the only way to survive in a limited economic situation. The ecosystem of individuals, businesses and the government will move to the digital space where only digital transactions and digital money serve.
Coronavirus and mobile payments in China
The mobile payments statistics yet to be revealed. But here are some factors driving mobile payments as seen in China during coronavirus pandemic:
eCommerce and food delivery
▪ Since the outbreak of COVID-19 China introduced “vegetable baskets without meeting”, where people can order fresh meat, eggs, vegetables and fruits without going out, and pay on mobile phones. This resolved people’s everyday problems during the pandemic.
▪ 33 e-commerce platforms, including Freshhema, JD.com, and Meituan joined the efforts to ensure vegetable delivery for Wuhan. On February 25, the 33 platforms delivered 279,400 orders of fresh food reported by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.
▪ Chinese mobile payment giants, Tenpay and Alipay, reduced or waived commissions for courier and takeaway businesses.
Mobile financial services
▪ The Central Bank encouraged online banking, mobile banking, and other channels to provide customers with 24/7 financial services, utility payments, and online shopping.
▪ UnionPay’s Cloud Quick Pass lowered and exempted service fees for various online payments such as fund transfers, credit card payment, mobile phone top-up, and utility payments.
▪ Online retail giant JD that provides JD’s Internet Hospital Platform recorded tenfold growth since the outbreak to reach 2 million users.
Chinese schools have remained closed since the Lunar New Year holiday.
▪ 50 million students attended online classes on DingTalk on the first day of the semester.
▪ Online courses of TAL Education had 500 million views in the first two weeks of the new semester.
Remote working tools
▪ Remote working and messaging apps DingTalk, WeChat Work and Lark experienced extreme traffic growth. In February DingTalk recorded an increase in downloads of 356% in comparison to January, WeChat Work – 171% and Lark – 650%.
▪ With users home, average time on digital entertainment and social media has spiked.
Mobile wallet penetration
▪ The Chinese government has teamed up with Ant Financial for Alipay mobile wallet to monitor citizens and track confirmed cases of the COVID-19. People sign up in Alipay and are assigned a color code according to their health status. Alipay has 1 billion users and a 54% market share in Chinese mobile payments. The new health functionality will increase the use of payment services in the app.
The Chinese story will be similar in all the countries. Amazon, the largest online retailer, announced this week that it is seeking 100,000 employees to meet US demand due to the coronavirus outbreak. A temporary epidemic will push users even more towards cashless society.
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