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May 4, 2020updated 05 May 2020 4:13pm

France payments market: CB maintains its stranglehold

By Evie Rusman

France’s payments market is mature and highly competitive, with the highest average annual spend per card in 2019 among peers including the UK, the US, Germany, Italy, Spain and Canada.

Debit and charge cards are preferred over credit cards due to the debt-averse nature of French consumers. Many are still frequent users of cash, but those who do possess cards – particularly debit and deferred debit cards – use them frequently at the POS.

France has a highly developed POS infrastructure, with a large number of terminals overall as well as a large proportion of contactless-compatible terminals, driven in part by government initiatives. A notable feature of the French payment card market is the availability of multifunction cards, whereby a single payments card provides access to several accounts; the most popular combination is credit and charge card facilities.

Rising adoption of contactless, e-commerce growth and the launch of digital-only banks are further expected to boost electronic payments in France.

The French market is dominated by Cartes Bancaires (CB), a national interbank network that only operates in France. CB cards are co-badged with international card schemes; while domestic transactions are processed through the CB network, international transactions are carried out via international networks.

CB cards were accepted by over 1.7 million merchants and at around 54,000 ATMs in 2018. CB also provides support for digital wallets such as Apple Pay, allowing holders to make payments with a mobile phone.

In July 2019, CB introduced FAST’R by CB, an online payment security service that is compliant with the international 3D-Secure EMV standard.

Charge cards are generally preferred over credit cards, accounting for 65.3% of the total credit and charge card payment value in 2019. Credit card use is low in France, due largely to cultural preferences and stringent application procedures.

The availability of private credit cards also poses a challenge to traditional credit cards, as they have less stringent qualification requirements and offer attractive loyalty benefits. However, with issuers offering various incentives, credit cards registered higher growth rates in terms of payments volume and value compared to other payment cards, at respective CAGRs of 19.8% and 16.5%.

Contactless card holding is high in France, with all major banks now offering contactless cards. The number of contactless cards rose from 40.0 million in 2015 to 70.1 million in 2019.

The increased contactless limit has accelerated consumer use of contactless cards in the country, and the rate is expected to rise yet further with the introduction of contactless payments for public transport.

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