The Importance of Digital Currency in a Post-COVID World
Pandemics are as common as they are foreign to us. Historically ripping through our finite human timeline, a heartbreaking number of casualties takes over our world every century, supplying a grim glimpse at our mortality. COVID-19 containment has been our white whale, shutting down marketplaces, governments, and family relationships. An introduction to twenty-first-century thinking supplies an extra level of devastation. There was a subconscious belief amongst many born in the Digital Age that we were close to invincible. The mentality was short-sighted but comfortable. We believed we were more potent than nature: a virus said otherwise. There have been many theories on how the human being will adapt to this. What will personal space look like in the coming years? Will companies’ opt-in to work from home policies? Will we trust scientists more than governments or trust no one more than ourselves? It’s impossible to see every future repercussion. So, we look back at the past year of global realignment, and we collect the only thing that is certain: data.
One pattern appearing from the data collected is that our world has found loopholes when confronted with impossibilities. People want to buy things. Consumers want to access their comforts, even if their amenities don’t have a place in this lockdown society. If you’re craving your favorite dish from your favorite neighborhood restaurant but can’t leave your home, the least the market can do is deliver the said dish to your doorstep and alert you through your phone when it gets there. Our world of comfortable living has already extended into digital comforts through online marketplaces that promise two-day delivery to your home and car services that make it so that the average teenager doesn’t need a license.
COVID-19 heightened these comforts, these digital privileges, and made them a necessity. And the numbers highlight this. E-commerce sales have boomed throughout developed countries in the past year. Eighty percent of Europeans today say they buy at least half of their products from online shops. Telehealth practices have reimagined health care solutions. School and work have taken on a new meaning, with more people garnering hundreds of hours of online information every month. It goes beyond hypothesis. The data says so. The change towards digitalization was already happening; COVID-19 was just the final catalyst.
So, in this world of hyper tumultuous innovation, where do financial institutions fit in?
The call to digitalize has been shouted from the highest mountains of FinTech companies for years, but the situation has never been direr. This is no longer a mere suggestion; it is a necessary move to avoid extinction.
Scared of Germs? There’s an App for That
In the EU, e-wallets are one of the most common forms of payment. They’re fast, efficient, and for COVID-19 purposes: safe. Cash is a foreign concept; checks are obsolete. The world of digital banking access has made it as easy as scanning a bar code on your phone.
The Americas are a bit behind, but the past two years have shown a definite increase. There is a current coin shortage in the United States, with the National Mint slowing production due to COVID restrictions and the consumer refusing to let go of physical fiat currency. Going through brick and mortar stores, you see signs imploring customers to please supply exact change or credit cards for transactions. Some businesses have refused to take cash or check for the sake of diminishing the physical contact between tender and customer. This shift was met with reluctance prior to coronavirus. Up until 2019, Starbucks’ app was the most common payment platform for mobile purchases in the US. Not until recently did Apple Pay take over that spot.
Central and South America are on the rise, although their development is more complex, as it involves many different countries with many different rules and restrictions. Nonetheless, the demand is there, it’s just about getting the right product.
Parts of Asia are miles ahead, with China reporting eighty percent of their payments through proximity mobile platforms. This enormous leap forward is a broad indicator of their current pandemic status as well. As China’s markets seem to steady instead of plunge, you must wonder what role safe payments and trust in digitalization played in this resurgence.
Mobile transactions play a prominent role in efficiency and speed, which is what technological advances often sell to consumers. You drive a car because it’s faster and more comfortable than a horse. You buy things from your phone because it’s a better system than a checkbook. From the moment you hit ‘pay’ on a mobile payment service, your ledger is updated with the new amount of funds, your bank is notified, and your transaction is processed. It’s simple, it requires minimal manual reconciliation, and you get to tuck your phone back in your pocket and continue with your day. This should have been enough to transfer us over to a digitalized monetary system within the next decade, but a new emotional driver got involved: fear—specifically, the fear of touching something that could potentially infect you with a harmful disease. Our expectations for market adaptation have been shortened — with technology advancing at unprecedented levels, the decade-long transition is looking naive. So, what is a traditional monetary infrastructure supposed to do? The answer is simple: get rid of the tradition. If there’s anything that a world-shattering occurrence shows us is that nothing is certain forever.
When Contactless is Complicated
It’s important to acknowledge that supplying a digital platform for payments is easier said than done. Although these software’s and providers are backed by secure technology, people do not trust these methods as much as traditional ones, especially since many contactless payment methods do not require a PIN when used.
There’s also the issue of accessibility. Although a rising payment form, contactless services are not widely accepted in many places, making it more of a benefit than an expectation for your shopping experience. We also must acknowledge that not all consumers have the means to use mobile apps for payments. Smartphones are a given for some societies but a luxury for others.
There are also the people from earlier generations; what we dub “Digital Immigrants.” A Digital Immigrant is an individual traversing the digital and analog world. Someone wary of the technology that could very quickly become a classic sci-fi trope. These individuals are often not interested in digitalizing. And although mobile payments are enticing for the sake of safety, asking specific people to change is a moot task, albeit an unnecessary one.
Finally, there is the current economic situation. Companies that innovate will continue to grow, but consumers suffering from unemployment and extensive furloughs will not consistently be there to fill their role. People who have the luxury of remaining employed are still buying products, with women’s e-commerce clothing market taking a sizable percentage increase in 2020. But those who work in industries that are tremendously affected by unemployment rates have other motivating factors than consumerism. It is impossible to have conversations about payments and market trends without acknowledging the authentic help that those in crisis need during these precarious times. Economists debate the long-term effects that this pandemic will have on the overall economy, and the different sectors of our world also have other plans and ideologies when it comes to stimulating their nation’s financial situations. However, the conclusion is still momentarily dire for the most part. Those who work are shopping more. Those who cannot work are not shopping.
As we dissect our new world’s trends, business sectors will face challenges and tough decisions. The financial industry is not exempt from this. Although the shift to digitalized payments (and currency, which is a much more extensive topic to be covered) was unavoidable, the progression has quickened. Nonetheless, companies and businesses should not only be motivated to digitalize by possible obsoletion. These trends are shifting for the advancement of humanity.
Intentionality in technology and digitalization is as crucial as the product or idea itself. We must ask ourselves: are we doing this because we believe it is the right thing to do? Is there an egalitarian means to this end? If so, complications are expected and should be embraced. The cynical see these speedbumps as a nuisance; the innovative see these speed bumps as an exciting challenge.
If we are indeed to embrace safe and efficient mobile payments, we must also embrace the idea that we are just at the start point. We are the theorists gathering data, drafting untested conclusions. We are as blind to the future as last year when Wuhan was hit with a new coronavirus strain. But as the world has proven through tenacity, resilience, and a need for the signature dish from your favorite local restaurant mid-shutdown: we adapt.