How Bristol became the U.K.’s leader in contactless payments

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When it comes to naming the U.K.’s biggest cashless hubs, Bristol may not immediately spring to mind — but the city has topped Manchester, Birmingham and even London to lead the way as the country’s contactless capital.

This finding is based on a new survey from card payments provider Paymentsense, which analyzed data from more than 300 million transactions made across the U.K. in 2018 to obtain the country’s leading cities for contactless, debit and credit card payments.

While London might have been expected to dominate all three categories due to its population density, Bristol led the way for contactless payments as a percentage of its overall transactions. More than 73% of the city’s transactions are contactless, a finding which Guy Morense, chief marketing officer at Paymentsense, suspects is partly linked to its status as one of the U.K.’s leading university cities.

“Despite London implementing contactless across its transport network, Bristol still overtakes when it comes to proportion of contactless usage, an indicator of its high percentage of students and youth population,” Morense said.

“The city’s continued investment in its digital, creative and food and beverage sector undoubtedly attracts a higher amount of young people across the U.K., with its proportion of contactless transactions a testament to that investment,” Morense said. “As Bristol is now set up with contactless on buses too, the city’s adoption of tech will only see its proportion of contactless transactions continue to rise.”

While London sees a greater number of total card transactions every year, due to its much larger population, Bristol’s residents appear to be quicker to embrace advances in payments technology which Morense predicts will help the city attract more commerce in future.

“Bristol overtakes London when it comes to the proportion of people using contactless, proving its stance as a hub of innovation in the payments space,” he said. “Bristol’s ease of payment transactions, coupled with its investment in new payment technology, makes it attractive to businesses looking to tap into the city’s receptive consumers.”

Bristol has long had a tradition of ushering in new means of card payments through technologies developed by local companies. Bristol-based payments service provider Creditcall — which was acquired by U.S. payments giant NMI last year — developed the first real-time authorized credit card acceptance platform in the world for pay-and-display parking.

“There are a huge number of students, and Bristol’s quite a tech hub as well, so the population are comparatively young; so that demographic lends itself to being receptive to new forms of payments,” said Liz Gibson, vice president of technical sales at NMI. “When we first started enabling pay-and-display parking using credit card, it was installed at Bristol Parkway station, where we saw 73% of people switch to the new method of payment inside six months.”

Due to the demand within the city for contactless, in recent years, NMI has been involved in a whole range of innovative projects to enable contactless payments solutions for everything from charity collections for the local children’s hospital, to the bus tickets on the new metro system, to the Clifton suspension bridge toll.

“Anywhere there’s infrastructure which requires new payments methods to be installed, contactless is a natural choice,” Gibson said. “That can be anything from tolls to vending. There are probably dozens if not hundreds of vending machines in and around Bristol which take contactless payments through us.”

But while Bristol stood out in Paymentsense’s survey, other major U.K. cities performed surprisingly badly. One of the most notable omissions from the top 10 cities for contactless payments was Manchester, while other northern cities such as Hull and Durham ranked in the top five.

“Only 59.12% of the Manchester’s transactions are contactless, placing the city at just 65th in the rankings,” Morense said. “Without continued investment into revolutionizing payment methods across sectors like entertainment and retail, Manchester risks jeopardizing its attractiveness to businesses. Ease of payments is extremely important for cities to remain competitive for commerce.”

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