Submitted by Michelle Salandy, PhD.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered the world into an unprecedented health and economic emergency. This unforeseen challenge has caused many economies to adapt to what is now known as the ‘new normal’. Many in society have had to embrace new ways of doing things, from the wearing of face masks and enhanced sanitisation, to increased remote work or work from home alternatives and the use of videoconferencing and networking platforms such as Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
This ‘new normal’ has also compelled many more individuals to use non-cash payment instruments such as debit cards, credit cards and online payment transfers to pay utility bills and purchase goods sold online. This increased usage is believed to have convinced many of the ease and safety of online payments and may have changed their longstanding view of cash being the ideal method to pay for goods and services. For instance, a consumer survey conducted in the US in March by RTi Research, a leading market research company, found that 54% of the individuals who ordered groceries online for the first time indicated they would continue post-COVID-19, while 66% of the individuals who had food delivered to their homes for the first time, indicated they would continue after COVID-19. The survey also revealed that 70% of first-time users would continue to use contactless payment methods.
Local businesses and the government are also adapting. Several businesses that were once considered ‘cash only’ have now reconsidered their business model as physical stores are closed. Many businesses have migrated to an online presence as they advise their customers to shop from home. For instance, various supermarkets, whole food retailers, personal care stores and pharmacies are directing customers to place orders for curbside pick-up, while others are offering home delivery services to assist individuals that prefer to stay in or are unable to go out. The government is also expanding its digital capabilities to allow debit card, credit card or online payment to be accepted for services at the Ministry of Works and Transport (Linxup), Inland Revenue, Immigration Division, Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs (GovPayTT), Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards
(TTBizLink), National Insurance Board and Judiciary (CourtPay).
As COVID-19 continues to alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another, and many adapt to this ‘new normal’, the burning question is, how will it unfold in Trinidad and Tobago? Will the way we trade and the way we manage money change forever? Will individuals with access to bank accounts choose to return to long lines to pay bills, or will they continue to use online banking? Will the continued use of debit cards, credit cards and/or direct transfers be favoured? Will there be a rise in e-commerce and new FinTech payment solutions as this new digital environment becomes the preferred choice?
Many believe the ‘new normal’ is here to stay. Thus, the financial sector may be required to upgrade the payment infrastructure and expand their suite of digital financial services (non-cash payment options) with technologies such as e-money, to keep up with this new and increasing demand for digital enterprise and online purchases. The Trinidad and Tobago International Financial Centre continues to highlight the many benefits that can be gained from the increased adoption of e-payments among individuals and businesses. E-payments are expected to improve the ease of doing business in the short-term and increase financial inclusion and economic growth in the long-term.