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April 12, 2019updated 03 Mar 2022 6:25am

Cash vs card: which payment method wins in the UK in 2019?

By Patrick Brusnahan

In 2019, the battle of cash vs card in the UK carries on. With the fall of the high street lurking in the background, as well as e-commerce going from stride to stride, how are UK consumers making their payments?

In the UK, the overall value of card transactions in 2018 hit $1trn. According to GlobalData, this came with an average spend per card of nearly $6,000. Card penetration is high with 2.5 cards per inhabitant. This comes as no surprise as 99.5% of the population are banked.

Contactless boost

Card payments in the UK have been heavily boosted by the emergence of contactless payments.

There is widespread acceptance of NFC-enabled and contactless payments across the UK. According to UK Finance,  there were 118.9 million contactless cards in circulation in the country as of December 2017, up from 58.7 million cards in 2014.

The number of contactless payments made in the UK increased by 97% during 2017 to 5.6 billion payments. This consisted of 4.9 billion contactless debit card payments and 0.7 billion contactless credit card payments.

In September 2018, Mastercard revealed that almost one in two in-store card transactions in the UK are contactless, with contactless technology representing 46% of all transactions every month.

The UK boosted its contactless limit from £20 to £30 in September 2015, and payments giant Visa estimated that this move boosted its use; its analysis revealed that contactless payments rose by 237% in the first six months of the new limit.

Contactless cards are also accepted on many forms of public transport, especially in London, giving them an even bigger boost.

Cash making a play?

Cash is largely used for low-value payments. However, the share of cash transactions within overall transaction volume has fallen between 2014 and 2018. This was due to a rise in card payments.

With increasing use of digital payment technologies – especially by younger generations – the use of cash is estimated to further decline.

Cash accounted for 28.5% of transaction volume in the UK in 2018. In contrast, cards were responsible for 48.9% of transaction volume.

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