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The rapid roll-out of the UK’s Covid vaccination programme, with over 60 million administered doses to date, means that for many of us, life can begin to resemble something close to normal. This is a remarkable achievement and gives hope that at long last, this agonising and tragic period of our history may be finally drawing to a close.
For businesses, after so many months of empty premises and shuttered doors, it means the return of in-store shoppers, diners, drinkers, venue patrons, concert-goers, sports fans and so many other daily interactions and experiences that we all took for granted. Whether introducing working from home schemes in record time, or drastically changing business models to offer delivery and collection rather than in-store shopping, businesses up and down the UK have risen to the challenge. As we start to take stock of the last year, the key takeaway lesson is one of adaptability in the face of adversity.
For payments providers and the wider fintech industry, this was an opportunity to deliver and meaningfully demonstrate the flexibility, agility and innovation in payments solutions we have been promising for so long.
How payments systems and providers have helped merchants adapt
Undoubtedly, the way people pay has undergone a dramatic and revolutionary shift. When over half a decade of change took place in just a few months, it’s obvious that the disruption we saw in payment behaviour over the last year will be long-lasting.
One such disruption was how contactless payment came to the fore and delivered on its initial premise as the speediest and safest way to pay. With people hesitant to use cash and even PIN-entry card transactions, contactless transactions comprised 83% of all face-to-face card payments during 2020. Tens of thousands of businesses which had never previously considered how they could make use of e-commerce solutions, delivery options, or card terminals were suddenly seeing the benefits of the technology.
With contactless limits now being raised even further in many countries following the April 2020 initial hike, contactless could well start to eat even further into chip and PIN transactions, particularly as a rapidly increasing number of contactless payments are now being made on mobile devices, wearable items like bracelets and other convenient form factors.
Many of these changes are here to stay. Small businesses have built fantastic local networks of loyal customers who have come to collect a takeaway coffee or a pint, and to make use of Covid-adapted facilities such as beer gardens or outdoor dining spaces. Likewise, many merchants have trialled e-commerce for the first time and been pleasantly surprised at the response as orders pour in. For them this will undoubtedly form an invaluable additional revenue stream alongside traditional footfall as the world opens back up once more.
It is not just in payment technology that the fintech industry has supported the business community. Many payment providers offered Covid-adjusted rates for those struggling with sudden business closures. The pandemic has ushered in a new approach to partnerships, shared resources and the commitment to help individuals and businesses alike to navigate this new normal. This is perhaps the greatest and most positive adaptation of all.
What will the future of payments look like?
In my role, delivering payment services to thousands of merchants across and beyond the UK, adaptability has been somewhat of a silver lining in a difficult time. We know how crucial it is for SME's to have future-proof solutions that will serve them in the post-Covid environment and beyond.
What are we likely to see in the post-Covid world of payments? The payment terminal will go to where the customer is, not the other way around. Payment methods and acceptance devices are no longer tethered by wires or to fixed locations. Business and consumers alike increasingly favour portable card readers and virtual terminals for optimised payment acceptance.
In an increasingly mobile-driven world, customers want to be able to pay no matter where they are, wherever in the world they are. It’s important that the payment industry continues to provide tailored, flexible and convenient solutions to SMEs and individuals alike, coupled with a strong business proposition.
Perhaps the greatest lesson we’ve learned is that if you provide the tools, businesses will find a way to use them in new and innovative ways. Beyond apps and payment scheduling, sometimes adaptation is as simple as purchasing portable card terminals which are perfectly suited to use in busy beer gardens and outdoor terraces.
Like the rest of the UK business community, we have worked relentlessly with our customers to enable them to not only survive, but to flourish in these challenging and often frustrating times. We are by no means out of the woods yet, but the importance of flexibility, adaptability, and contingency planning has been impressed on a whole generation of business executives and entrepreneurs. It is my hope that though the pandemic may fade, the lessons learned will make a better world for all.