Survey shows that Estonians have equal preference for paying in cash or by card
Tiina Soosalu, Payment and Settlement Systems Department
Kristjan Lember, cash analyst
The results of a survey of the payment habits of consumers in the euro area* show that although the use of cash has dropped notably in the past couple of years, it still remains the most common form of payment in the euro area on average. Cash and cards are used for an equal share of payments at points of sale in Estonia, as both are used for 46% of purchases.
Cash remains the most common means of payment in the euro area on average, but its share of payments has dropped rapidly in recent years. Two years ago cash was used for 72% of purchases in the euro area on average, but the latest survey finds it is used for 59% of purchases. Bank cards are used for 34% of purchases made at points of sale, and this figure has increased by 9% over the past three years. There are wide differences between countries, as 70% or more of purchases in Malta, Slovenia, Austria and Italy are made in cash, while only around 20% of purchases in Finland and the Netherlands are.
Cash and cards are used for an equal share of payments at points of sale in Estonia, as both are used for 46% of purchases, and this was about the same in Estonia three years ago.
Bank cards are used a little more than cash in the euro area for more expensive purchases at points of sale. Cash was used for 81% of purchases of five euros or less, but only for a third of purchases that cost over 50 euros. Purchases of more than 50 euros account for 14% of all the purchases made at points of sale.
Payment with smart devices has become more common in recent years, but is only 3% of all purchases, which is a small share compared to other means of payment. The figure in Estonia was similar to the euro area average at 3%. Smart devices are most commonly used for payment in points of sale in the Netherlands, where they are used for 10% of purchases, and in Finland, Ireland and Latvia where they are used for 6%.
More and more purchases are being made through online stores. In 2019, 6% of purchases in the euro area were made online, but now 17% of everyday purchases are made through online stores. There were no major closures of stores in most of the countries of the euro area during the survey period, but the pandemic has still clearly left a mark. Among respondents, 37% say that they now make purchases online more often than they did before the pandemic.
They mostly use online stores for larger and more expensive purchases. More food and everyday goods are bought online than previously, accounting for 24% of all the online purchases, while purchases of medicines and cosmetics over the internet have become more frequent and are 10% of all online purchases.
Online purchases are the largest share of everyday purchases in Belgium, Austria, Ireland and France at above 20%, having increased by around 10% in France since the previous survey. Online purchases as a share of all purchases in the euro area in 2019 were highest in Estonia at 16%, and that figure has remained the same in 2022.
Cash is used for 73% of payments between individuals in the euro area as a whole, but the importance of cash has declined in three years. Cash is used for only 50% of payments between individuals in Estonia, and it is used even less in the Netherlands at 41% and in Finland at 49%. Mobile apps are increasingly used for payments between people, accounting for 10% of such payments in the euro area, up from 3% three years ago. Mobile apps are most commonly used for payments between people by residents of the Netherlands, where 43% of such payments are made with them, while they are also commonly used in Finland, Estonia, Luxembourg and Malta, for about a quarter of payments between individuals.
Crypto assets are not widely used in the euro area, as only 4% of the population use them. They are a little more common in Slovenia and Luxembourg, where 8% of the population use them. The survey found that 5% of people in Estonia use crypto assets. In 70% of cases, the crypto assets are held for investment, while 27% of residents who use them do so for payment as well as investment.
The share of holders of crypto assets who use them for investment is a little higher in Estonia at 83% than the average in the euro area. Payment is made relatively more often with crypto assets in Italy and Lithuania, though the shares of people in those two countries that hold crypto assets is the lowest, at 3% of residents of Lithuania and 2% in Italy.
Access to cash is very good throughout the euro area and Estonia. Cash was considered easy to access by 89% of the respondents in the euro area, and by as much as 94% in Estonia. Cash is most commonly accessed in the euro area from cash issuing points, which provide 74% of cash on average, and from reserves held at home, which provide 11%. These are also the most common ways of accessing cash in Estonia, at 72% and 10% respectively. The survey found that 37% of respondents on average in the euro area hold part of their savings in cash. This was an increase of 3% on the previous survey.
In Estonia, 49% of the respondents hold some of their savings in cash, which was also 3% more than in the survey of 2019. Estonia is among the leading countries in the euro area for the share of people who hold savings in cash, exceeded only by Slovakia, where 58% do so.
* The euro area survey of the payment behaviour of consumers was held between October 2021 and June 2022, and a total of 39,765 people were surveyed, 1506 of them in Estonia. A similar survey was run in 2016 and 2019. For more information on the survey results, see the website of the European Central Bank.