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The Evolution of Payments: From Cash to Contactless, and Beyond

By 2031, just 1 in 20 transactions will be made in cash. Contactless payments are rising, with smartwatches and voice commands as new payment methods. Biometric payments are also rising with facial recognition and voice-led payments, but security and privacy concerns remain.

The Evolution of Payments: From Cash to Contactless, and Beyond

It is predicted that by 2031, only one in every twenty transactions will be made in cash. The pandemic prompted businesses to quickly move as much of their operations online and implement entirely digital payment systems. The transition to a cashless society is a logical step in the evolution of how customers and businesses interact with payments. The next step is determining how much we interact with electronic payments. Innovative payment methods include QR codes and digital remittances, impacting all facets of society.

The rise of contactless payments
During the pandemic, businesses were pressured to ensure they could succeed in a suddenly digitised, touchless world. mPOS, the mobile point of sale, makes transactions more accessible and affordable, so when everything moved online, the benefits became apparent, and mPOS naturally grew. In response to the low-touch economy, they even turned to earlier solutions, such as the comeback of QR codes which were mainstream among the public in the 2010s, with retailers like Alipay using them in China as a contactless payment method.

In 2020, Apple bought the financial company Mobeewave in response to the expanding low-touch economy, launching their Tap to Pay solution. The rush to introduce a Tap to Pay solution to the market has grown competitive as big technology businesses want to participate in the next generation of payment technologies. This launch will no doubt attract some attention. Still, providers will be competing across Apple and Android to prove to microbusinesses and sole traders that their platform offers seamless integration and usability.

Next-gen payments
So, how can we expect to see payment technologies develop in the next few years? With cashless and contactless payments now widely accepted as the future, new technologies are rapidly developing, and businesses must be agile to keep up.

From the consumer's perspective, we are quickly moving in the direction where you won’t even need to take your wallet or phone out of your pocket to make purchases. Although they may have been viewed more as a novelty than a viable long-term solution, smartwatches have already contributed to the contactless revolution. However, similar technology may soon be applied to other wearables like bracelets and rings – anything that could readily double as a more convenient form of payment.

This leads to how consumer hardware is being eliminated. For example, Mastercard launched a pilot biometric payments programme in its stores in May, using facial recognition technology to explore how customers could pay with a wave or a smile. No wallet, phone, or jewellery – just yourself and a smile! Similarly, we could see payments by voice command, eliminating the need to tap a device.

Using speech recognition as a popular biometric has become mainstream through Google’s voice assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, as all significant technology players see the potential in voice-led convenience. It doesn’t just open up possibilities for frictionless experiences in payments. Still, it can also prove to assist with accessibility in payments, too, as those who may struggle to use a card machine or with tapping a phone will be able to use their voice instead.

Additionally, consumers increasingly don’t need to pay for products and services upfront with the rise of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL). This has been deemed the perfect intersection of payments and lending, providing consumers with spending protection. However, it is still divisive as it discourages saving and prompts questions about the effect on credit scores. Payment solutions are moving into financial wellness and looking at providing more accessible and more efficient features that also can improve the spending experience overall.

Of course, innovative leaps forward come with significant obstacles, and there is much discussion about how these technologies could be implemented securely. Facial recognition technology, in particular, invites privacy concerns, and these should be at the forefront of thinking for developers looking to take the payments space into a new age. We’ve even seen examples of microchip implants used to make payments, though again, this invites plenty of privacy concerns.

These difficulties are not insignificant but will always be a part of the innovation process. These challenges are always overcome as long as people remain open to change and technology continues to advance – as evidenced by the ongoing expansion of contactless spending restrictions. Before we know it, tap to pay, biometrics, and voice instructions will feel natural.

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