The social and private costs of retail payments instruments

Costs of retail payments

The European Central Bank (ECB) carried out a study of the social and private costs of different payment instruments with the participation of 13 national central banks in the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). It shows that the costs to society of providing retail payment services are substantial. On average, they amount to almost 1% of GDP for the sample of participating EU countries. Half of the social costs are incurred by banks and infrastructures, while the other half of all costs are incurred by retailers. The social costs of cash payments represent nearly half of the total social costs, while cash payments have on average the lowest costs per transaction, followed closely by debit card payments. However, in some countries, cash does not always yield the lowest unit costs. Despite countries’ own market characteristics, the European market for retail payments can be grouped into five distinct payment clusters with respect to the social costs of payment instruments, market development, and payment behaviour. The results from the present study may trigger a constructive debate about which policy measures and payment instruments are suitable for improving social welfare and realising potential cost savings along the transaction value chain.

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