Coronavirus contactless payments are here to stay

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For years, the payments industry waxed unpoetically about transactions that eliminate physical interaction. There was contactless, mobile, mobile wallets, card not present, e-commerce, e-payments, e-invoicing, NFC, one-touch, one-tap, ACH, etc. We just kept pumping out new buzzwords.

I have a new name for all of those: Corona-Free Payments.

For billions of people who are afraid to catch the coronavirus, the most comforting payment technology is any kind that eliminates physical contact. By demand and government decree, those payment methods are sweeping the world.

Corona-Free Payments are not just about safety, though. They are also about pivoting businesses to survive this economic disaster.

When the coronavirus shut down most of the economy in March, brick-and-mortar businesses had a simple choice: go digital or close.

Storefronts that offer clothing, home decor, sports gear, etc., set up e-commerce shops or listed their goods with marketplaces like Amazon. Restaurants went digital because no one wanted to exchange cash and cards that might contain the virus. B2B businesses like wineries, many of which sell primarily to restaurants, pivoted to online consumer sales.

All these businesses now do Corona-Free Payments. As nonessential stores reopen to visitors, they, too, will be expected to keep or add Corona-Free Payments. That means customers can: Pay through a mobile app in-store, assuming the business can afford an app; use digital wallets like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Venmo, PayPal, and others; do contactless, NFC payments through the point-of-sale system; or order from an e-commerce website and then pick up the goods.

Notice that I left out normal ATM and credit card payments. No one wants to touch the card reader. Any shop that tries to reopen without at least some of the above options will lose business, plain and simple.

If they haven’t already, businesses are going to stop sending physical checks. If no one can be in the office, it’s not an option to begin with. Even if it was, who’d want to touch a check that has been in a stranger’s hands? It doesn’t matter whether some public health official says checks are safe after X number of hours. People are afraid.

So, invoicing is going Corona-Free, too. That means businesses issue digital invoices via Oracle ERP, Microsoft Dynamics, QuickBooks, Sage, etc.; and the recipient pays the invoice by electronic check (ACH), SEPA or payment card.

This represents a massive shift. As recently as 2018, 64% of businesses still used paper checks to make and accept payments. The current percentage is unclear but probably still high. Going Corona-Free only has upsides. It’s less expensive, automatable, and everyone gets paid faster.

Corona-Free Payments will help us reignite economies without putting customers, friends and family at unnecessary risk. Every store will need Corona-Free Payments to earn people’s trust.

Once people are used to digital payments everywhere in life, they will not go back to exchanging cash, entering ATM PINs and handling checks. Those days are over.

Our industry should focus on helping businesses adopt Corona-Free Payments. That is what we can do to support people’s safety, keep businesses running and help the economy adapt to this new normal. Our customers need Corona-Free Payments, and once they adopt them, there’s no going back.

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Coronavirus Contactless payments Digital payments Cash Payment processing Merchant