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Visa considers extending ‘war on cash’ business incentives outside US

  • Visa considering rolling out cash incentives to the U.K. and beyond if they agree to switch to card-only payments.
  • The payment technology company unveiled the scheme to U.S. businesses on Wednesday.
  • Industry voices say card payment companies should be pushed to reduce transaction fees in order to win over retailers.
Woman paying with contactless credit card
BSIP | UIG | Getty Images
Woman paying with contactless credit card

Visa is hoping to extend its "war on cash" agenda to businesses in the U.K. after announcing new incentives for U.S. businesses to go cashless.

The payment technology company revealed on Wednesday that it was launching a "cashless challenge" which would see 50 U.S. businesses receive $10,000 each to help them convert to a cashless payment model.

It is now aiming to roll the model out to the U.K., though is yet to set a timeframe for the launch, a Visa spokesperson confirmed to CNBC Friday.

Under the scheme, businesses in the U.S. are invited to submit plans outlining what going cashless might mean for them, their employees and their customers.

Recipients of the award will then be required to use the lump sum to upgrade their point-of-sale systems so they are completely cashless. Any remaining money can be put towards marketing, the company said.

"We're declaring a war on cash," Andy Gerlt, a spokesman for Visa, said in the announcement Wednesday.

"We hope to offer a similar challenge to those merchants who are interested in other countries, including the U.K.," a spokesperson told CNBC in a separate email Friday.

"At this time, we do not have a firm plan on when such an initiative would be available in the U.K."

The proposed $500,000 investment in the U.S. should provide a boon for Visa, the world's largest processor of credit and debit cards: it takes a fee from every payment that runs through the network.

This is one of the reasons many businesses are reluctant to make the transition, or choose to offset the cost to customers by having a minimum spend for card transactions. In the U.K. alone it is estimated that British retailers spent over £1 billion ($1.29 billion) to accept card payments last year, according to research released Wednesday by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The EU recently introduced regulation to help businesses, particularly small- to medium-sized ones to cope with this burden. New caps on the fees for handling credit and debit card transactions saved U.K. retailers £500 million last year, according to the BRC.

However, it argues more can be done by card companies to reduce transaction fees, beyond helping with the initial start-up costs.

"It is ultimately the customer that decides how they wish to pay and BRC research shows that customers continue to use cash for more than 40 per cent of transactions in the UK," a spokesperson for the BRC told CNBC via email.

"At the same time, cash accounts for only 11 per cent of retailers' costs associated with accepting payments, compared to 73 per cent for card payments, therefore card companies can better serve retailers and their customers by providing a more cost-efficient service."

It is estimated that, as of this year, more than half of all customer transactions in the U.K. were made via card payments, spurred in part by the growing popularity of new technologies including contactless payment and Apple Pay.

But the Bank of England's chief cashier, Victoria Cleland, has warned against businesses isolating those customers who continue to prefer notes and coins. In a speech delivered last month on the future of cash, Cleland pointed to the 2.7 million people in the U.K. – almost 5 percent – who rely almost solely on cash for their day-to-day payments and insisted that businesses ensure "financial inclusion."

"While reliance on cash is less significant than in the past, it is still crucial to everyday life and I encourage the cash industry to continue to innovate, to evolve, and to keep cash relevant and fit for purpose," Cleland said in a speech on the future of cash.

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