By Paul Kent, CEO at Adumo

New technologies, regulations and changes in consumer behaviour are set to shake up the South African payments ecosystem in the months ahead.

South African retailers, merchants and informal traders are set to benefit from a new wave of payment innovation entering the local market, while new regulations could transform the payments landscape and drive greater adoption of non-cash payment types.

From regulatory changes allowing instant payments and greater fintech collaboration, to every smartphone potentially becoming a payment acceptance device, and shoppers heading back in-store, these are the developments we foresee in SA’s payment landscape over the coming months.

Rapid payments accelerates shift away from cash

Exciting changes are due later this year with a overhaul from South Africa’s largest clearing house, BankservAfrica.

Through a project called the Rapid Payments Programme (RPP), South Africans will soon be able to transfer money instantly without the need for EFTs, using only personally identifiable information such as a mobile number.

The RPP will also enable platforms such as WhatsApp to offer payments directly in the app.

Most significantly for informal merchants and micro-enterprises, the RPP will enable money transferred to be available to the receiver within seconds, compared to card-based payments that may take up to two days before the merchant can access or spend the funds.

This could be just what the industry needs to loosen the tight grip of cash over the informal and formal economy. One study found that cash cost South African consumers R23-billion in 2015, or half a percent of the country’s gross domestic product that year.

There is hope that the RPP and other interventions – such as the Payment Association of South Africa’s Project Future and the measures set out in the SA Reserve Bank’s Vision 2025 – could help lower barriers to adopting cashless payment types and unlock access to financial tools and products to a larger share of SA’s population.

Every smartphone becomes a POS

Significant effort has been made to drive payment innovation through point-of-sale (POS) devices.

In the formal retail and hospitality sectors, POS devices accepting contactless payments have driven adoption of new payment types such as tap-and-pay enabled cards, NFC payments such as Apple Pay, and QR-code payments.

In the informal market, companies have done extensive groundwork to bring mobile POS devices to merchants in an affordable and accessible way. This has had the positive knock-on effect of helping displace cash and improving financial inclusion among underserved parts of the economy.

In a ground-breaking move in February, Apple enabled third-party payment access to softPOS that turns every Apple smartphone and tablet into a payment acceptance device, lowering barriers to adoption of non-cash payments even further.

Similar innovation is bound for the Android platform too, which could significantly drive uptake of non-cash payments in traditionally cash-dominated sectors.

The challenge for local companies will be onboarding informal and other merchants to softPOS. Here, working with the likes of iKhokha, who has done the work to get payment acceptance tech into the hands of underserved communities, could break down barriers to adoption.

Consumers head back to physical stores

Ecommerce has shown huge growth over the past few years, spurred on by improved mobile and fibre connectivity and investment by retailers in building online shopping experiences and capabilities.

Undoubtedly, lengthy lockdown periods here and abroad forced millions of people to shop online for the very first time. In these unprecedented years, technology companies – especially FinTechs – have had to develop innovative advancements and get them quickly to market to keep the world moving. Understood in this way, Covid can be seen as an accelerator of the technology revolution.

A 2021 study found that total sales for online retail in South Africa reached R30.2-billion, a 66% increase over the preceding year, and more than double the R14.1-billion reached in 2018.

A separate study found that 68% of South African consumers were purchasing more items online since the start of the pandemic.

With pandemic restrictions being eased and people coming back into stores, many will still continue online shopping, finding it more convenient. But physical store trade will continue.

Part of the reason is the different customer experiences on offer in physical stores versus virtual ones. The dopamine hit of instant gratification is simply not as prevalent when shopping online compared to in-store, and retailers continue to refine the in-store experience to draw customer footfall.

Expect also to see online payment options – such as instant EFT and buy-now-pay-later – being offered in-store. South African fintechs such as Adumo and SwitchPay have helped build integrations with retail point-of-sale devices to unlock new payment options at the till.

And considering the growing popularity of convenience-driven services such as buy-now-pay-later, uptake of such services among cash-strapped consumers is highly likely, and good for South Africa.