Contactless payments are revolutionising the way we spend on smaller items.
According to data from trade body The UK Cards Association there are now 101.8 million contactless debit and credit cards in circulation in the UK, with £2.9 billion being spent using the technology in November 2016, the most recent month for which figures are available.
Richard Koch, head of policy at The UK Cards Association, said that the fact the total had increased by 184 per cent on the same month in 2015 – when contactless spending passed the £1bn mark for the first time - shows that consumers “have recognised contactless is a fast, easy and secure way to pay and are voting with their wallet at the checkout”.
Loading article content
“There are more than 100 million contactless cards in circulation and consumers are tapping 125 times every second, not only for their lunchtime sandwich but for grocery shopping, clothes and increasingly for commuting too,” he said.
However, a recent YouGov poll carried out on behalf of financial services provider 118 118 Money has suggested that contactless payments could be proving a little too convenient, with a quarter of 18 to 24-year olds saying they now spend more than they would have done previously as a result of having a contactless card.
The UK Cards Association’s data found that at 88 per cent the vast majority of contactless payments are on debit cards rather than credit cards, meaning users are unlikely to get themselves into debt by tapping for their items. Indeed, Koch noted that “while technology has changed the way we pay and where we spend, it doesn’t change how much we have to spend”.
However, the YouGov poll found that many younger people are running out of money more quickly than before because they are using contactless to pay for things such as coffee or toiletries that they may previously have done without.
Mark Burgess, chief operating officer at 118 118 Money, said: “It is perhaps unsurprising that the younger generation are the biggest contactless spenders. Young people’s lifestyles are so fast-paced and with there being such a variety of temptations, like the odd coffee or lunch out, using a contactless card is the quick and easy payment option.”
Jane Tully, director of external affairs at the Money Advice Trust, said that despite contactless payments being more convenient for consumers than having to rely on cash, they could also promote the type of impulse buying that leads to bad spending habits in the longer term.
“As we move increasingly towards a cashless society and money becomes even less tangible, we don’t yet know what long-term impact this could have on spending habits and how we manage our finances,” she said.
As the contactless limit is set at £30 it is unlikely that anyone will make any large impulse buys using the technology and, indeed, The UK Cards Association data showed that the average spend per contactless transaction was £8.95 in November.
However, Nick Hill, money expert at the Money Advice Service, said this just makes it even more important that we “keep track of our spending to ensure that we are being charged correctly and that we know how much money we have left”.
Burgess at 118 118 Money agreed, noting that “we still need to be cautious that these little spends don’t add up to an unexpected bill at the end of the month”.
“Our advice would be to regularly check your account when using contactless payments to ensure you’re not spending more than you think on unnecessary items, and shop around for the best deal to avoid impulse purchases with a tap of your card,” he said.
The advances in technology that have made contactless payments possible in the first place can help in this regard, with mobile banking apps acting as virtual tallies in people’s pockets.
“We need to be alive to the opportunities that innovation can bring – including for helping people in financial difficulty,” Tully said.
“Technologies like smartphone payments, which build on contactless technology, and money-management apps could offer opportunities to provide timely support in a way that hasn’t been possible before.”
Hill noted that, for the less tech-savvy, bank’s text-alert services can be just as useful, with regular updates of what they have spent making people “24 per cent less likely to go into an unarranged overdraft”.
At the end of the day, though, anyone who finds a cash-free, contactless world simply too difficult to stay in control of should note Tully’s observation that “it is important to remember that for many people on low incomes cash remains a very useful budgeting tool”.