Contactless payments and online purchases became normal during the pandemic
Eesti Pank Payment and Settlement Systems Department
- Residents of Estonia made more than a million card payments a day in points of sale in Estonia in June, which was 10% more than a year ago and the highest number ever
- Purchases made online accounted for 14% of all purchases made with bank cards in spring, having been only 3% just five years ago
- Almost 95% of the bank cards issued can be used for contactless payments, and half of all card payments are contactless
- The proxy payment service using only a telephone number, which has been in the market for a year and a half, has 178,000 users in different banks
Five years ago, 97% of the purchases made with bank cards were in physical points of sale and only 3% were in online stores, but in March and April this year the share of bank card payments made online was up to 14%. The relaxation of the restrictions has brought people back into shops, but it may be expected that in future a much larger share of purchases will continue to be made through e-commerce.
Residents of Estonia made an average of more than 1 million card payments a day in points of sale in Estonia in June, with a value of 18.5 million euros. The number of card payments was 10% higher than in June last year, and the turnover was 12% higher, and the figures were the highest ever recorded for June. The restrictions meant however that the volume of card payments made abroad remained at a low level. Card payments made abroad in June totalled less than half as much as in June two years ago before the pandemic. Card payments continue to be made most in Finland, where the volume of card transactions was affected less than in other neighbouring countries, largely because of people from Estonia living and working there. The strongest contrast with the pre-pandemic period was in the share of card payments made in Latvia. Latvia eased its restrictions somewhat from the middle of June, but even so Estonian cardholders made only 3700 card payments day in Latvia, down from 11,500 a year earlier. There is also much less travel to other neighbouring countries, such as Russia and Sweden, and card payments made abroad remain far below their pre-pandemic numbers.
Bank cards are used increasingly for making purchases in online stores based in Estonia and abroad. The pandemic caused a lot of everyday purchases such as food and other primary goods to move to internet stores. Bank cards were used for 123,000 online purchases a day in June this year, which was 2.5 times as many as in June 2019. An average of 3.4 million euros a day was spent in Estonian and foreign e-commerce stores, which is a little less than in spring this year but 75% more than two years ago.
Of the 1.87 million bank cards issued by banks in Estonia, 1.76 million or 94.5% of all cards issued had contactless capacity at the end of June. However the contactless function was deactivated on a fifth of cards that had it at the end of June; it was deactivated on 24% of cards at the end of 2019. Almost all terminals are capable of handling contactless payments, and only a few dozen of the 37,000 terminals could not handle contactless payments at the end of June.
Around half of card payments are by now contactless in Estonia, and contactless payments are used even more frequently abroad. The limit for contactless payments was raised at the start of the pandemic to 50 euros, where it still remains today, and most countries in Europe have a similar limit. Some contactless payments need to be confirmed with a PIN code though for security purposes. Purchases for more than 50 euros generally need to be confirmed by entering the PIN code at the card terminal. The limits for contactless payments using smart phones and watches are higher.
The Estonian banks brought proxy payment services to the market, working with the Latvian central bank, which manages the register of the telephone and account numbers of bank clients from Estonia and Latvia. Proxy payments are processed where possible as instant payments, in which case the money moves to the account within only a few seconds. The service has been available in the market for around a year and a half. The various banks had a total of 178,000 users of the service at the end of June, and between them they made around 1.5 million proxy payments a month.
Proxy payment is available to private clients using the mobile applications of Swedbank, SEB, Coop Pank and LHV to make payments using only the telephone number of the payee and without knowing the account number. To use the service, the client has to activate the proxy payment settings in the banking app. Proxy payment is a convenient solution for payments between friends for example, or for paying small amounts.
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