Like many places, Latin America has seen the dramatic rise of e-commerce, accelerated by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures. This has been accompanied by the increasing use of alternative payment methods (APMs), such as eCash, digital wallets, and bank transfers. All of this makes Latin America an attractive market for merchants. But a key question is whether these changes in consumer habits will endure in the long term?
by Gustavo Ruiz Moya, CEO of eCash for Latin America and Global Head of Open Banking, Paysafe
With a view to better understanding consumers’ payment habits in the region, Paysafe commissioned a survey of 3,000 consumers across Brazil, Chile, and Peru in April 2022.
Our survey paints a positive picture when it comes to how long-term this opportunity really is, with 74% of respondents in the Lost in Transaction survey saying their payment habits have changed permanently since the start of the pandemic.
This means it’s an exciting time for consumers and merchants. Access to the internet and e-commerce through mobile phones is growing, and different ways to pay are driving greater choice and inclusivity for consumers. Merchants can now look slightly differently at a region that might have seemed prohibitive in the past due to a lack of local knowledge and partnering opportunities, as well as payment hurdles and difficulties of cross-border transactions.
Latin American countries’ increased digitalization its support of instant payments against the backdrop of a population which is keen to adopt APMs (63% had used a digital or mobile wallet, eCash, or crypto in the last month) has made this a market with huge potential.
Driving greater inclusion through e-cash
Although there are many differences between one Latin American country and another, demographics, banking environments and regulations, and payment preferences, to name but a few, there are also some common characteristics. This includes a general tendency toward an informal economy with a large unbanked population – 45% according to the World Bank. Also, a preference for cash over debit or credit cards, largely driven by the turbulent economic climate over the last decade, access to credit, an air of mistrust of the economic system, and high fees and interest rates of debit and credit cards.
In this environment, alternative payment options are drivers of financial inclusion. Consumers avoid high fees, they conveniently pay in their neighbourhood merchants, no need to go through complex application processes, there are no credit checks, and they don’t have to share a load of sensitive information online. It’s just a better overall experience for the cash-preferred customers.
So there’s no surprise that the use of e-cash is on the rise in Latin America. Our findings tell us that 20% of respondents use e-cash more frequently than they did a year ago, with 17% saying they use it about the same amount as a year ago. Our survey also gathered responses from 8,000 consumers across the UK, US, Canada, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, and Italy, and it highlighted more use of eCash in Latin America with 15% saying they used eCash in the last month compared to 9% across Europe and North America.
Security ranks top for consumer concerns
Alternative payment methods such as e-cash, Pix, and QR-code-based services have been increasingly popular over the last couple of years in Latin America. Although reasons such as convenience, simplicity, and speed are good indications of why we have seen this uptake, it also highlights concerns around the security of financial information.
In our survey, 45% of consumers said security is the most important factor when choosing how to pay for online purchases. Further, 66% don’t feel comfortable entering financial details online and 78% are more comfortable using a payment method that doesn’t require them to share their details with merchants.
Payment methods such as eCash remove the need to enter financial or personal details online, giving people access to e-commerce in a way that makes them feel secure. We can also see that 38% of Latin Americans feel they don’t know enough about e-cash, while 21% would use it in the next 2 years if it becomes more widely available. So the key to wider acceptance and uptake is at least in part about understanding alternative payment options as well as how they work. With greater awareness, combined with increasing smartphone adoption (81% by 2025, as mentioned above), e-cash is likely to become a more everyday payment choice across the region.
Cost of living, credit, and crypto
In terms of more general payment trends, the cost of living has had a significant impact on Latin American consumers’ choice of payment method for online purchases, with 63% saying they’ve changed the way they use certain payment methods, compared to 36% in Europe and 39% in North America.
This indicates a willingness to adapt payment habits to circumstances, whether that’s trying to avoid high fees or interest rates – of those who have said they’ve changed their habits, 63% are avoiding using pay-by-instalment plans. Or opt for a method that doesn’t involve credit – 58% are using their debit cards more often, while 45% are using direct bank transfers more regularly. Digital wallets have also seen fast adoption: 35% of consumers say they use them more often as a result of the rising cost of living. And 27% are using e-cash more often for the same reason.
Finally, crypto is starting to gain traction with 8% using it more frequently as a payment method compared to a year ago.
In summary, what once might have seemed a difficult and complex market to enter now presents a rich opportunity for businesses outside Latin America, especially for online merchants with virtual deliverables. It really can be as simple as choosing the right provider with a well-established presence ‘on the ground’ and the regulatory requirements in place to get instant access to local payment networks.