Coronavirus: France is reluctant to raise the ceiling for contactless payment

Contactless payment has become the new “barrier gesture” to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Rumors about the risks of contamination via banknotes, however denied by the Banque de France and numerous studies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have undoubtedly played a role. Testimonies abound on the refusal of payment in cash in food businesses. A radical change for France, where 70% of local transactions are still made in cash.

Raise the contactless limit to 50 euros

The European Banking Authority (EBA) even launched an appeal on Wednesday to encourage the national authorities in charge of payment systems in each of the 29 European countries to facilitate contactless payment and raise the ceiling for each payment to 50 euros. MasterCard, one of the main international payment networks, hastened to respond by announcing its intention to raise its ceiling from 20 euros to 50 euros. This rule is, according to MasterCard, already applied in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Estonia and Poland.

And France? For the time being, nothing is moving and the ceiling remains at 30 euros per transaction, with a cumulative limit of 150 euros per day. MasterCard’s decision does not affect France. For a simple reason: all domestic payments (and withdrawals) by card are managed by GIE Cartes Bancaires, without passing by MasterCard or Visa.

And the recommendation of the European authority seems to leave the French actors unmoved. “At a time when the average basket of card purchases continues to fall, there is no tension on contactless payments in France”, says Philippe Laulanie, managing director of Cartes Bancaires CB.

While small local shops are at the heart of the challenges of containment, and the average basket in hypermarkets (45 euros with the crisis) melts like snow in the sun (30 to 50% depending on the region), the current ceiling responds very broadly to needs, he says.

“Why take the risk of changing the rules in the midst of a crisis when we have the capacity to collect a doubling of the number of contactless transactions”, wonders Philippe Laulanie. In 2019, contactless payment represented some 3.3 billion transactions and, according to Cartes Bancaires, the system can support 7 billion transactions with cards and current rules. And this without the risk of additional fraud.

“Raising the ceiling represents an industrial risk and there is no point in announcing it if behind it, the means are not deployed, such as updating part of bank cards, payment terminals and bank servers for permissions », confirms Hervé Sitruk, president of France Payments Forum.

The ceiling raised to 50 euros after the crisis

However, the GIE Cartes Bancaires does not remain inactive. Discussions are being held with trade federations and large distributors to facilitate contactless payment in two installments for the same receipt. One way to raise the ceiling to 60 euros. Contacts are also being made to develop payment from one euro in certain businesses or services, such as tobaccos, pharmacies and doctors.

Then, and above all, the GIE is preparing for the end of the crisis with an announced jump in consumption, like what is currently happening in China. In reality, raising the ceiling to 50 euros is already in the works, as part of a new transformation plan, similar to that of 2017, when the ceiling rose from 20 to 30 euros. But bankers do not want to manage this transition in the midst of a crisis.