Responsible Finance Forum

Cashless Cities: Realizing the Benefits of Digital Payments

Cities account for a large proportion of the global population and its economic activity. Today, over half of the world population lives in cities. By 2050, this number will increase to two-thirds. Currently, over 80% of global economic activity takes place in cities and it is expected that the vast majority of future economic growth will come from cities, largely spurred by digital payments.

This study is unique in that for the first time it looks at the net benefits associated with adopting digital payments and does so at the city-level. The assessment is carried out for 100 cities across 80 countries, segmented by stage of digital maturity, with these cities modelled to an “achievable cashless scenario”. This scenario is defined as the entire population moving to digital payment usage equal to the top 10% of the users in that city today. The findings provide compelling support for greater adoption of digital payments.

This study estimates that increasing digital payments across the 100 cities could result in total direct net benefits of US$470 billion per year. On average, these net benefits represent slightly over 3% of a city’s current GDP. Greater economic activity spurred by digital payments also supports higher employment as well as improvements in wages and workers’ productivity. This study also finds that on average, across the 100 cities, increased usage of digital payments could add 19 basis points to a city’s GDP and support over 45,000 additional jobs per year per city, while worker productivity and wages could increase by 14 and 16 basis points per year per city, respectively. To put the GDP growth number in perspective, the 19 basis points increase in economic growth per year across the 100 cities translates to nearly $12 trillion of total additional economic activity over the next 15 years – an amount exceeding China’s 2016 GDP.