Contactless payments and e-commerce got a big boost from the pandemic, says Visa’s Europe CEO

The COVID-19 pandemic has sped up the shift to contactless payments and e-commerce, according to Visa Europe CEO Charlotte Hogg.

Speaking on the second day of this year’s Fortune Global Forum—which has itself been forced from the physical world into the virtual—Hogg said the shift was even apparent in markets where cash is seen as king, such as Europe.

The coronavirus “hasn’t killed cash, but there has been a real shift to digital,” Hogg said in an interview with Fortune‘s Jen Wieczner. “You can see real evidence of changes in behavior.”

Hogg said that during the pandemic and its attendant lockdowns, ecommerce activity surged by a quarter in 20 countries around Europe. “There has been a real shift and adoption of digital and embracing of technology that perhaps we haven’t seen before,” she said.

In Belgium, she noted, Visa has seen 40% of its cards that had never previously been used for ecommerce, being used to buy goods and services online for the first time.

As for contactless payments, Hogg said European businesses were “embracing” the new technology as they aimed to minimize opportunities for virus transmission. “If you’re on a till in a supermarket, you’re quite pleased when you don’t have to handle something in this climate,” she said.

The European Banking Authority urged the use of contactless payments back in March, in the early stages of the pandemic’s European spread. The regulator said at the time that payment firms should increase their contactless-payment limits, which have traditionally been quite low in Europe due to fraud fears.

Hogg said the subsequent raising of those limits had not seen those fears justified, and pointed out that Visa processed half a billion additional contactless payments as a result of the increase. The company said a week ago that more than three-quarters of in-store Visa payments are now contactless.

This is, of course, not just a European phenomenon. Research released in August by the U.S. National Retail Federation and Forrester indicated a 69% rise in contactless payments since January.

Sebastián Kanovich, co-founder and CEO of the Uruguayan payments technology firm dLocal (the South American country’s first “unicorn”) joined Hogg on the virtual panel, and backed up her observations about the acceleration of digitalization during the pandemic.

“It should be easy for anyone to accept payments online,” Kanovich said. “Obviously the pandemic has been a huge help.”

Kanovich said the speed of the change—digital payments adoption that was expected to take years instead happening “in a matter of weeks”—had given his company some of its most challenging times, but “also some of the most exciting.”

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