From Cash to Electronic Payments: Microeconomic, Macroeconomic, and Policy Aspects of Retail Payment Systems

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This dissertation explores three aspects of the economics and policy issues surrounding retail payments (low-value frequent payments): the microeconomic aspect, by measuring costs associated with retail payment instruments; the macroeconomic aspect, by quantifying the impact of the use of electronic rather than paper-based payment instruments on consumption and GDP; and the policy aspect, by identifying barriers that keep countries stuck with outdated payment systems, and recommending policy interventions to move forward with payments modernization. Payment system modernization has become a prominent part of the financial sector reform agenda in many advanced and developing countries. Greater use of electronic payments rather than cash and other paper-based instruments would have important economic and social benefits, including lower costs and thereby increased economic efficiency and higher incomes, while broadening access to the financial system, notably for people with moderate and low incomes.

The dissertation starts with a general introduction on retail payments. Chapter 1 develops a theoretical model for measuring payments costs, and applies the model to Guyana—an emerging market in the midst of the transition from paper to electronic payments. Using primary survey data from Guyanese consumers, the results of the analysis indicate that annual costs related to the use of cash by consumers reach 2.5 percent of the country’s GDP. Switching to electronic payment instruments would provide savings amounting to 1 percent of GDP per year. Chapter 2 broadens the analysis to calculate the macroeconomic impacts of a move to electronic payments. Using a unique panel dataset of 76 countries across the 17-year span from 1998 to 2014 and a pooled OLS country fixed effects model, Chapter 2 finds that on average, use of debit and credit cards contribute USD 16.2 billion to annual global consumption, and USD 160 billion to overall annual global GDP. Chapter 3 provides an in-depth assessment of the Albanian payment cards and remittances market and recommends a set of incentives and regulations (both carrots and sticks) that would allow the country to modernize its payment system. Finally, the conclusion summarizes the lessons of the dissertation’s research and brings forward issues to be explored by future research in the retail payments area.