Businesses in Belgium took in 10,535,817 payments by bank card on the Saturday before Christmas, in shops and online, according to Worldline, which operates the electronic payments system. The figure is an absolute record, breaking the previous record of 10,432,103 transactions registered on 29 November, the so-called Black Friday.
The trend towards more and more payment being made electronically continues. In 2016, 63% of all payments were made in cash, but a survey carried out earlier this year by iVox had 89% of the 1,000 Belgians interviewed saying they preferred paying with the card.
Belgium still lags behind its neighbours, however. Paying cash is still deeply ingrained in the Belgian system, with many businesses, especially in the food and drinks business, refusing to switch to any electronic payments at all, in many cases for tax reasons – cash payments need not always go through the books. Others impose a minimum limit on card payments.
That leads to a situation where members of the public are forced to obtain cash for one reason, and they are then more ready to pay cash even if not required to. That attitude, though, will eventually run up against the problem of most banks closing down cash machines in the hope of saving money and moving more transactions online via computer or smartphone apps.
A nationwide wave of thefts of or from cash machines using brute force or even explosives has also had a deadening effect on the availability of cash.
So more retailers are signing up for payment terminals, but nowhere near the level in France or the Netherlands. Belgium has a total of 16,000 terminals being used in retail, compared to 24,000 in France – admittedly for a much larger population – and 29,000 in the Netherlands, where cash has become almost unnecessary, and where most e-payments are now contactless, with the PIN code heading in the same direction as pocket change.
Worldline has also announced it has passed the symbolic barrier of 2.5 billion transactions in Belgium for the whole of 2019, compared to 2.3 billion last year.