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The Pandemic Is Transforming to Digital Economy

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Even before coronavirus, paper money and coins are generally considered dirty. With a full-blown pandemic, people are less willing to go outside and buy items. And even when they did, they avoided carrying cash to use it to pay for everything. By September, the pandemic has changed the way people look at cashless transactions. And the companies handling this digital economy? They’re laughing their way to the bank.

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Cashless is King

Last February, mobile payment company Square reported that 5.4% of its stores are cashless. By April, the number of stores jumped to 23.2%. The number went down to 13.4% in August when the government eased restrictions.

For the same Square vendors, 37% of transactions were cash. Once Covid-19 went full-blown, it dropped to 33% by August. Compared to the year before, it stood at 40%. Under normal circumstances, a 7% drop usually takes three years to happen. 

Only 13.2% of Square outlets accepted online payments last February. By August, that number rose to 40%. Meanwhile, contactless payments increased 6.6% from February to August, settling at 70%.

Square economist Felipe Chacon thinks the new normal has included methods of payment. He said: “These new findings show a significant and stabilizing increase in cashless adoption rates compared to pre-pandemic, with business owners reliant upon contactless and online payments and consumers utilizing those alternatives. This signals that COVID-19 has already had what will likely be a lasting impact on consumer behavior.”

Fintech Outperforming Traditional Banks

As cashless/online payment gained ground, financial tech owners began growing too. CNBC reports that the total worth of Square, Visa, PayPal, and MasterCard is $1.07 trillion. This amount eclipsed the market value of America’s big six banks. Together, the value of  JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs is below $900 billion.

Investors have rewarded these companies, pushing their stock prices to new highs. Visa has grown from $180.82 in August 2019 and is now $215.71 a year later. Mastercard shares now cost $366.12 last August 28, but it was $281.37 a year before. Paypal increased from $109.05 in August 2019 to $204.48 after a year. Square rose from $61.84 to $155.93 in the same period.

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These companies are now pushing forward to make their brands provide more. Square announced last Tuesday that Cash-App users can now get their wages ahead of payday. This encourages cardholders to connect their app with their direct deposit payroll. Venmo, a PayPal subsidiary, also lets users access earned wages. Meanwhile, banks need to deal with increasing loan defaults and low-interest rates. 

The March of the Apps

With the pandemic, people have now ditched passbooks and purses and switched to apps. It’s not only bank apps, but also an investment and financial planning apps. People will likely stick with the apps even after the crisis blows over. 

In a CNN interview, Plaid CEO Zach Perret noted the increase in users. He said: “What we’ve seen is that consumers during this period have increased their reliance on digital financial services built by banks but also, built by non-banks.”

Plaid is the digital infrastructure provider that links bank accounts to the apps. From March to May 2020, Plaid’s partner firms recorded a 44% increase in new users compared to last year. Despite the pandemic, Plaid had to hire an extra 20% of workers to keep up with demand. “I think the pandemic has made it incredibly clear that digital financial services are here to stay,” Perret said. Visa and Plaid have earlier announced that the former will buy the latter for $5.3 billion.

PayPal expects 70 million users new accounts this year, double the rate from 2019. Even the traditional banks saw its users shift to its digital persona. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan reported an influx of a million mobile account users. 22% of them were senior citizens who used to resist the bank’s digital versions. Merill Lynch’s digital log-ins spiked more than 100% from 2019. Even Robinhood, the popular stock trading app, outpaced gambling apps. With American millennials stuck at home, they used the time to bet on stocks. Robinhood traders were instrumental in fueling a Wall Street rally earlier this year. Last May, the app reported adding 3 million new users.

Watch this as CNBC’s Closing Bell talks about how fintech demand has been affected by the pandemic:

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Digital transactions are fast becoming part of the new normal. Not only are they designed for the pandemic, but they will also offer convenience after the outbreaks have passed. Do you have digital accounts in place at present? If not, what is holding you back? Share with us your opinions on how you plan to participate in the digital economy.

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