Saturday, December 15, 2007

Paying cash more expensive than using the debit-card

Here's an interesting bit of research done in the Netherlands. All shops, banks and central bank have joined forces to evaluate the cost of payments with cash, when compared to debit-card. The results are that it has taken us in the Netherlands some 15 years to ensure that the full cost of debit-card payments are lower than cash-payments.

The research outlines that:
- full cost of payments in retail are down from 839 million euro in 2001 to 788 million in 2006,
- in 1992 a debit-card payment was triple as costly as a cash payment
- in 1998 the debit-card payment with PIN was roughly twice as costly as a cash payment
- in 2006 the debit-card payment is almost the same price as a cash payment (20-18 cents in retail-environment),
so that now, at the end of 2007 it's safe to state that the full cost of Dutch debit-card payments to merchants are lower than cash payments (on a per transaction basis).

As a consequence, the retailer representative organisations advise all merchants to use the debit-card rather than cash and to stop old habits that date from earlier days: the surcharging for use of the debit-card. Because other research by the central bank shows that still 20 % of the retailers surchagre an amount of approximately 23 cents for payment wit a debit-card.

So one landmark achievement is that over here in the Netherlands we have started to beat cash in terms of real cost.

Comes with it another interesting development. One fifth of the retailers surcharges 23 cents for a debit-card transaction that costs them 20 cents. Leading to a 3 cent per transaction profit. The bank-side of this equasion is that banks sell their debit-card transaction for 5 cents, while it effectively costs them 13 cents (see McKinsey reports in 2005). Meaning that debit-card payments have turned into a profit maker for retailers and a bleeder for banks.

This makes you wonder why it would make sense for banks to still subsidize debit-card payments to merchants with a one cent per transaction 'efficiency-stimulus' as agreed in the 2005 Covenant.