Cash, cards and COVID-19

Cash, cards and COVID-19

Although we are adjusting to keeping in touch with our loved ones digitally, we do inevitably need to emerge from our quarantine cocoons to pay for things. Encouragingly, FinScope 2019 data shows increases in the proportions of adults using cell phone banking (23%) and banking apps (12%).

Collectively, however, this is still less than a third of adult South Africans using either of these channels. Even when it comes to paying for food or groceries, there is a significant adoption gap to overcome. 87% of adult South Africans pay for food or groceries in cash, whereas 35% use some form of digital payment, and almost all (34%) pay via card swipe or chip and pin. 1% claimed to use card taps and 0,1% claimed to use a mobile payment app like Snapscan and Zapper.

a significant portion of adult South Africans are exposed to the necessary delivery of cash to get their social grants

Even if we account for the impact that our margin of error in the survey estimate means that the true figures are higher, the reality is that in the present moment where we are hyper-vigilant of infection risks, we cannot rely on contactless payment options to keep everyone safe.

Every month a significant portion of adult South Africans are exposed to the necessary delivery of cash to get their social grants. Similar considerations apply to distributing food parcels. What measures are in place to limit the potential spread of infection through this necessary service?

For those of us that pay for things digitally, there are existing operational requirements that enforce contact. For example, no matter if a card is “tapped” many banks require an input of a PIN for transactions above a certain limit. This is a step in their risk management processes around fraud.

Is it appropriate for them to relax these rules to assist in limiting the potential spread of COVID? Given the trade-offs involved, what should this transaction limit be raised to?

To the extent that pin numbers are inputted, what additional sanitary steps can and should be taken to ensure that potential COVID spread is limited? Can POS machines be routinely sprayed? Or should the hands of customers be sprayed immediately before they input their pins?

There is a minutia of actions that institutions in the transaction chains can explore to improve on hygiene, given the various trade-offs in time and cost that actions and safety measures entail.

Written by


Bobby Berkowitz
Data Research Specialist
Email: bobbyb@finmark.org.za
Tel: +27 (0) 11 315 9197