An unprecedented survey by Visa Consulting & Analytics, the consulting arm of Visa, mapped and classified all 5,570 Brazilian municipalities according to their degree of development in electronic and digital payments. The Digital Payments Maturity Index revealed that only 3.8% of the Brazilian cities can be considered “ready” for the next steps of the payment industry. In other words, cities where there is greater adoption of digital payments, a higher number of cards and POS terminals per capita, and access to new digital payment technologies, such as contactless cards, digital wallets, or apps that turn the cell phone into a POS terminal, among others.
Most cities (75%) were classified as for beginners (37.8%) or emerging (37.6%), which means that they need, first of all, investments in basic infrastructure to leverage their electronic payment systems. The remaining 20.8% are municipalities considered to be in transition.
One of the index’s purposes is to foster the transition from physical cash to electronic and digital payment. Visa hopes to use the intelligence generated by the index to understand each city’s context in terms of technological development and increased financial and digital inclusion of the population, and to plan strategic actions with issuers, acquirers, and merchants, such as identifying merchants that do not yet accept card payments or prioritizing efforts in a given location to increase the number of cards issued and the acceptance of digital payments. Besides Brazil, the study was also conducted in Mexico, Colombia, and Chile over the past three years.
A study by Roubini ThoughtLab commissioned by Visa shows that replacing physical cash positively impacts municipalities with higher economic growth, more tax revenue, job creation, increased salary mass and productivity, and gains in administrative efficiency. The benefits are also visible for consumers and businesses since they add more convenience and security, better financial management, and greater digital inclusion.
Tania Oliveira, vice president at Visa Consulting & Analytics in Latin America, explains that the development of this ecosystem happens in two phases. First, it is necessary to ensure that the location has adequate infrastructure for electronic and digital payments, especially a good connectivity structure; beginner or emerging cities need more effective government action to develop this infrastructure.
Then, it is necessary to make sure that the community has access to cards, POS terminals, banks, new payment technologies, and a variety of services and businesses that offer non-cash options. “Depending on the level the city is at, the government plays a key role first, and then comes the acceleration by the payments industry, such as acquirers, issuers, banks, and the productive sector to make this ecosystem flourish.”
There is also the development of strategies by verticals. If the index shows that in a city or region there is less acceptance of electronic or digital means of payments in a specific sector – education or construction or restaurants, for example.
In a country of continental proportions such as Brazil, the index confirmed that there is a huge difference between the large cities and most medium and small cities in terms of the adoption of electronic means of payment.
When we look at the result by region, unsurprisingly, the South and Southeast concentrate most of the cities considered ready, such as Belo Horizonte (MG), São Bernardo do Campo (SP), Curitiba (PR), and Vila Velha (ES). But there are also surprises, such as Rondonópolis (MT) and Fernando de Noronha (PE), which are more advanced compared to the predominance of electronic payment in comparison with the average of their regions.
Capitals such as Manaus (AM), Maceió (AL), and Porto Velho (RO) appear in the group of cities in transition. This category includes regions willing to develop a more digital scenario, but that still have problems in accepting electronic payments.
The emerging ones are Santarém (PA), Magé (RJ), Juazeiro (BA) and Parnaíba (PI). These cities have great growth potential for the financial industry, both from the point of view of issuing cards and accepting electronic payments.
The beginners are the ones that still require investments in infrastructure for the electronic payment system to be developed. At least 80% of the cities in the states of Amazonas, Alagoas, Maranhão, Paraíba, Acre, and Bahia were classified in this stage, such as Bragança (PA), Parintins (AM), and Codó (MA).
In Mexico, Latin America‘s second-largest economy, the analysis of the 2,456 municipalities showed that 6% are considered ready – almost double the percentage of Brazilian cities that are ready. The Center and North of the country are the regions with the highest number of municipalities in this category, such as Delegación Cuauhtémoc (CDMX), Isla Mujeres (Quintana Roo), and León (Guanajuato).
Despite having more mature cities than Brazil when looking at the degree of development of the electronic payment system, Mexico has a higher number of municipalities classified as emerging (58%) and as beginners (22%). Most of them are in the South of the country, with the exception of tourist destinations – something similar to what happens with Fernando de Noronha in Brazil. In transition are 14% of the cities.
Colombia was the country with the worst result among the four Latin American countries studied by Visa so far, with only 13% of the municipalities classified as ready, in transition, or emerging. This means that 87% of the cities are considered beginners, with only 13% of the population banked and with a very low level of adoption of electronic payment methods.
Of the 1,122 municipalities, only 0.7% are ready; this group includes Medellin, Envigado and Sabaneta (Antioquia), Barranquilla (Atlántico), Bogotá and Chia (Cundinamarca), Bucaramanga (Santander) and Cali (Valle del Cauca), cities where more than 57% of the population is banked. The municipalities in transition correspond to 4% of the country and the emerging ones, to 8%.
The study showed that the biggest challenge in the country is to improve the connectivity infrastructure and the acceptance/confidence of the population in electronic payment methods.
With 344 municipalities and despite being considered a country with a high banked people rate, Chile has only 2% of the municipalities in the ready category, such as Santiago, Las Condes, Vitacura, and Providencia; 13% are in transition, in other words, they have the connectivity infrastructure necessary for electronic payment methods, but still use a lot of cash. This is the case of Concepción, Puerto Varas and Viña del Mar. As in Brazil, most Chilean cities are in the emerging (49%) and beginner (36%) categories.
The methodology, already patented, consolidated the data in four dimensions: Emission, Acceptance, Infrastructure, and Socioeconomic Conditions.
The survey considered information such as the number of cards per capita; debit and credit transactions; the number of withdrawals; the number of bank branches and ATMs; the number of broadband accesses; data on POS terminals per capita and per square kilometer, GDP; level of employment and unemployment, HDI (Human Development Index) and population and educational information.
From the crossing of data and statistical analysis, the Digital Payments Maturity Index arrived at four classifications:
- Ready: the electronic payment system is robust.
- In transition: the electronic payment system is advanced.
- Emerging: the electronic payment system is underdeveloped.
- Beginners: the electronic payment system is undeveloped.