The views expressed in this Blog are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to the European Payments Council.
Europe is ageing fast. According to the latest projections from EUROSTAT, soon one in four people living in the European Union (EU) will be aged 65+. In parallel, society is changing rapidly and digitalisation of services is spreading in all fields – including banking services and retail payments. Customers are increasingly offered no other choice but to pay using cards, online or mobile payment devices. A few EU Member States are even deliberately trying to become cashless societies, and in these countries retailers have the right to refuse cash payments.
While this trend of fully using the potentials of new technologies in the field of retail payments is welcomed by most, it raises key concerns among some population groups, notably older people and persons with disabilities who face barriers caused by the lack of accessibility of many retail payment devices. In essence, accessibility of retail payments is important to all consumers.
Following the European Accessibility Act tabled in December 2015, the European Commission continues to try to fulfil the legal commitment to improve accessibility that the EU undertook when it ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
No one will deny that retail payments services play a crucial role in our societies. Yet in today’s context of rapid digitalisation of retail payments, persons with disabilities and the older persons increasingly struggle when they want to pay for the goods and services they wish to purchase, or when they try to withdraw cash from an ATM or manage their assets online.
The result is that everyone is losing: the retail sector loses valuable business opportunities and both customers with disabilities and older persons feel increasingly sidelined from mainstream consumers and denied the right to participate fully in the economic life of their community. In the twenty-first century, technical solutions exist to combat the financial exclusion of consumers with special needs and it is no longer acceptable to deny them the right to carry out their retail payments independently.
Why is action needed at level?
Interesting initiatives have been implemented in some countries to facilitate access to banking and retail payments services either by providing ad-hoc help to customers with special needs or by embedding accessibility features based on the concept of design-for-all in the technical devices that support retail payments and ATMs. While these initiatives are welcome and demonstrate that it is technically feasible to improve accessibility of retail payments services, the specific needs and barriers facing these groups have not yet been addressed in a coordinated way in the , ten years after the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This is why organisations representing persons with disabilities and older persons and others have joined forces to support the Pay-Able campaign, which strives for accessible payment terminals, because “millions of European citizens are excluded from carrying out payments in shops, restaurants, at ticketing machines and at other public access terminals, on a daily basis. This problem is even more urgent now that our society is transitioning to a less cash environment.”
Leaving individual banks or retailers or even national authorities to find solutions to improve accessibility of retail payments will lead to further fragmentation and additional barriers for consumers with special needs who travel to another Member State for work or leisure.
In the framework of the European Single Market, if we want to guarantee freedom of movement of goods and services and of citizens – including those with special needs – it is crucial to take action at EU level to ensure that the retail payments sector and consumer organisations will together develop common accessibility features that will be coherent and interoperable across the single market.
The best place for this debate and joint work to take place is the Euro Retail Payments Board () set up in December 2013 by the European Central Bank. This high-level group brings together all retail payment sectors from both the supply and demand side. Their mandate is to identify and study obstacles and find ways to help foster the development of an integrated, innovative and competitive market for retail payments in euros in the EU.
AGE Platform Europe and the Netherlands’ central bank, De Nederlandsche Bank, recently proposed the establishment of an informal working group to develop a proposal on what could be done at EU level to improve accessibility of retail payments. This proposal was supported by several members and work will start soon.
We are convinced that any measure adopted at level to improve the accessibility of retail payments will benefit both consumers and supply-side actors across Europe.
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