Voice of the Industry

How coronavirus is speeding up the move to mobile money

Monday 30 March 2020 10:26 CET | Editor: Oana Ifrim | Voice of the industry

Steve Moffatt, Director of Payments at WorldRemit, on mobile money as the healthy way to manage money through coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic is unfolding into an event that will starkly define our world in many ways. We are  having to reassess and adapt our most routine behaviours, such as how we work, shop, and communicate with loved ones, and it is inevitable that when this is finally over, some of the changes we have made will lead to permanent behaviour change.

The response from businesses involved in payments has had a clear theme: discouraging the use of cash to rule out its ability to spread germs. While the WHO has stopped short of actively discouraging the use of banknotes, a spokesperson has said that, “when possible it’s a good idea to use contactless payments”.

Is cash really so dirty? In one study, published in 2017 on research platform PLOS One, researchers found hundreds of species of microorganisms on banknotes, ranging from those that cause acne, through plenty of harmless skin bacteria to vaginal bacteria, microbes from mouths, DNA from pets and viruses. Credit broker money.co.uk worked with London Metropolitan University in 2018 to examine a random selection of all denominations of coins and notes. 19 different bacteria were found across UK coins, polymer GBP 5 and GBP 10 notes and paper GBP 20 and GBP 50 notes. This includes two life threatening bacteria associated with antibiotic resistant superbugs: Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Enterococcus faecium (VRE). The life-threatening airborne bacteria, Listeria was also found.

The 2017 research noted that further tests are needed on whether the microbes it found can be stably transferred from money to individuals, and the potential for infection, and experts don’t believe that touching an infected object or surface and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes is the main mode of transmission for coronavirus, but in the face of a threat like this, who wants to take an unnecessary risk?

Many UK businesses are assuming that customers do not, and also that they should not. Costa Coffee is taking contactless payment only. Greggs, a company that has been incredibly successful at capturing the consumer zeitgeist in recent times, is discouraging the use of cash in its stores. The British Retail Consortium announced last week that an increased contactless limit of GBP 45 is being rolled out ahead of schedule by its members starting this week.

So far so good. If there’s a significant problem, there are businesses stepping into the breach to accelerate a change in consumer behaviour with the ‘nudges’ at their disposal. But what about the ‘left behind’? In an increasingly mobile world, some people can’t access the services others can, whether due to poverty, disability or simply geography. The underbanked and unbanked include those in the UK who can’t handle modern technology, such as some of the elderly, and those who don’t have bank accounts and the debit or credit cards needed to register even for some free levels of online services, such as some who work cash in hand in often unstable jobs. In some of the markets we serve, the statistics on the unbanked are hard to credit at first. Around a third of Brazilians don’t have bank accounts, because the services are too expensive, branches are too far away, or they don’t trust the institutions.

The world still has distance to travel in getting beyond cash, but governments and businesses across countries once thought of as ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ are all starting to think about mobile access as a right and a good. In the UK, Open Banking is expected to support efforts to widen adoption of mobile banking, as will the drive towards ‘full fibre’. In Africa, mobile money service M-Pesa, which is used by over 37 million people in the continent, recently announced it is waiving fees to discourage the use of cash in the wake of Covid-19. 

There are still barriers to overcome in improving the speed, security and convenience of mobile money. Payment technical integration quality varies hugely per geography, and system complexities lead to payment and e-verification delays. Businesses like WorldRemit are working hard to provide the solutions in a way that makes the movement of money online simple, safe and fast, but an increase in awareness of a gradual ‘push’ away from cash should complement the ‘pull’ of increased access and its many benefits, and will strongly accelerate change. 

About Steve Moffatt

Steve Moffatt is the Director of Payments at WorldRemit. A payments expert with over 15 years of experience in ecommerce, money movement and fraud risk, Steve has held similar roles at Spotify and Betfair.



About Worldremit

WorldRemit has disrupted an industry previously dominated by offline legacy players by taking international money transfers online - making them safer, faster and lower-cost. We send from 50 to 150 countries, operate in 6,500 money transfer corridors worldwide and employ over 800 people worldwide. On the sending side WorldRemit is 100% digital (cashless), increasing convenience and enhancing security. For those receiving money, the company offers a wide range of options.

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Keywords: Steve Moffatt, WorldRemit, mobile payments, payments , mobile money, coronavirus, cash
Categories: Banking & Fintech
Countries: World
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