Central Bank report reveals surge in payment card use

The number of debit cards in Malta nearly doubled since the pandemic, while that of credit cards remained relatively stable.

Data published by the Central Bank of Malta shows that, during 2022, there was a considerable increase in the use of payment cards in Malta. By the end of that year, the number of debit cards issued in Malta reached a record of 1.2 million, or more than double the total resident population. The number of credit cards, on the other hand, stood at less than 200,000, or six times less than the number of debit cards.

The pandemic appears to have accelerated greatly the use of debit cards, as their number nearly doubled after 2019, while that of credit cards remained relatively stable. This was also mirrored in the number of contactless terminals available across Malta. These rose from some 13,000 in 2019 to 23,000 in 2022. This indicates that worries about the spread of COVID through touching paper money has led to considerable change over a short period of time.

The number of card payment transactions relating to locally-issued cards rose from 18.5 million transactions in 2018 to 46.1 million in 2022. The value of transactions doubled from one billion euro to two billion euro over the same period. Thus, the average value per transaction amounted to €44 in 2022, down from €55 in 2018.

At the same time, online payments rose from 12.7 million transactions in 2018 to 28.8 million in 2022. The size of these transactions rose from €0.8 billion in 2018 to €3.2 billion four years later. This shows how the pandemic led to a surge in online shopping, with transaction values quadrupling .

The phenomenon of greater use of cards also affected foreigners visiting Malta. In fact, while in 2018 there were transactions using foreign-issued debit or credit cards amounting to €0.6 billion, by 2022 these had nearly doubled to €1.1 billion. Even here, the average value per transaction fell, indicating that tourists started to pay with their card even for small purchases.

This research shows how quickly people change behaviour in reaction to social shocks, given the available technology. The indications are that, once behaviour changes, the change tends to be retained. This has important ramifications for significant behavioural changes that will be required to facilitate important transitions such as the green transformation.

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio

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