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Cashless Payments Promote Equity and Sustainable Development

The increasing shift to digital payments has created opportunities around the globe for more equitable and sustainable development. From sending and receiving payments to simplifying and opening access to capital, cashless transactions mean greater potential income for millions of workers and entrepreneurs worldwide.

Indeed, cashless payments can significantly promote a range of sustainable development goals set by the United Nations in its recent Sustainable Development Goals Report.1 Of the 17 milestones that it calls on nations to reach by 2030, financial inclusion plays a role in at least five—including reducing poverty and inequality and providing economic empowerment opportunities for women.

For people who haven’t been able to establish a financial history or easily transfer money, cashless services can be life-changing. Access to financing, mobile payments services and savings accounts can help improve people’s financial circumstances by allowing them to manage money more efficiently and sustainably.

Cashless services also allow people to create records of financial activity, which can be used for access to financial services and loans. As their financial circumstances expand, so too does their economic power. They’re able to purchase more goods and services and start businesses. Accepting cashless payments also opens existing businesses to new growth opportunities.

Today, it’s clear that digital platforms, including cashless payment systems, can serve as a democratizing force in financial sustainability and development. Here are four leading ways that cashless payments are redefining global economic opportunity

1. Connecting low-income and vulnerable groups to banking products

Low-income groups often find themselves the victims of predatory business practices. Criminals frequently target this segment as they see this often-underbanked (or unbanked) population as an easy mark for salary scams or predatory lending.

In some countries, a worker who is paid in cash, for example, has little recourse if an employer cheats them, lacking a formal record of their income. In addition to being cheated, this system may make it difficult for the worker to apply for additional lines of credit or financing beyond their daily or monthly income.

Digital bill pay and savings options can help people ensure they’re paid fairly—as well as establish financial records they can use to apply for credit, open savings and investment accounts, and purchase wealth-building and stable assets.

2. Helping entrepreneurs access financial services

Small-business entrepreneurs who want to open shops often have a difficult time if they are challenged by low income or limited credit, as traditional lenders may be wary of working with them.

But mobile-based microfinance and credit platforms can help these entrepreneurs obtain capital and earn better, more consistent income for their families. Services that include complementary training and support, alongside credit lending, can assist people in creating profitable and sustainable businesses. 

For small-business owners, access to financial services and education is crucial to jumpstart economic sustainability and growth. When people gain control over their money and earning power, they become more resilient to financial shocks like the economic downturn recently caused by the pandemic.

3. Bringing merchants new opportunities

For merchants, sustainable growth also depends on their ability to accept cashless payments from customers. This is especially true today, when contactless payments—including payment cards and digital wallets like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay—are more popular than ever.

By September 2020, Discover® Global Network had experienced a 184 percent increase in contactless spending year to date,2 largely fueled by international consumers’ pandemic-inspired desire to shop as safely as possible. In fact, responding to a global survey, 85 percent of consumers said they thought contactless payments would shorten lines.3 And the fast, touchless checkout experience they offer is another bonus.

The good news is upgrading to contactless technology is often easier than expected. If EMV-compliant smart card payment solutions like Discover® D-PAS are installed, contactless functionality only needs to be activated. In partnership with the card networks, software providers or other payments facilitators can help with the process.

Tap on mobile functionality, which lets merchants accept payments with any certified smartphone or tablet, is another cost-effective option. It’s a completely software-based solution that uses the NFC chip already built into most mobile phones. No external devices are needed to purchase or manage. Instead, merchants can quickly add card acceptance to a device they likely already have. Customers just touch their digital wallet to the merchant’s device to complete the transaction. Tap on mobile usage is steadily growing around the globe and may be particularly useful in developing nations.

4. Providing benefits to consumers everywhere

Cashless payments aren’t just important for traditionally disadvantaged populations. Digital payment options can give consumers and businesses at all economic levels a more seamless way to manage their finances, pay for goods and services and save money.4

Countries such as Sweden, Australia and China have seen an accelerated transition to cashless payments across the board—both due to the pandemic and the fact that much of the population is already accustomed to using mobile devices for financial transactions.

In many cases, national banks and cultural factors are helping to propel this move. Sweden’s banks, for example, support the ubiquitous money transfer app Swish, a real-time, mobile payment system originally built for person to-person payments but that now includes many other uses.6 Today, given Sweden’s small, tech-savvy population and the country’s strong broadband coverage, cash payments represent just 1 percent of Sweden’s GDP.6

A sustainable and more equitable future

Around the globe, real-time digital payments are more convenient—and more hygienic—than cash or checks. In total, cashless, connected services may transform quality of life by easing transactions and supporting a more integrated consumer experience. In addition, increased access to financial services opens doors to increasing savings, building financial histories and credit, accessing education and seizing new career and business opportunities.

When it comes to sustainable development, cashless payments may well be the thread that ties previously disconnected innovations together.

Want to learn more about cashless, digital payments?

See how Discover® Global Network can help grow digital payment capabilities across digital wallets, e-commerce, bank and merchant wallets and in apps.


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1 United Nations, 2021. The Sustainable Development Goals Report, 2021. Viewed 31 July 2021. 

2 Discover® Global Network Internal Reporting

3 451 Research, January 2020. Global EMV Merchant & Consumer Study: In-Store Payment Trends. Viewed 24 July 2021.

4 451 Research, January 2021. Key Findings: Global Fintech Vendor and Consumer Study. Viewed 2 Aug 2021

5 FIS, 2021. The Global Payments Report. Viewed 30 July 2021.

6 Deutsche Bank Research, February 2021. The Future of Payments: Series 2, Part II. When digital currencies become mainstream. Viewed 30 July 2021

The information provided herein is sponsored by Discover® Global Network. It is intended for informational purposes, and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.