Cash Enjoys Top Billing in South Africa

After enjoying great success in Kenya, money transfer app M-Pesa entered the South African market in 2010 with expectations of securing 10 million users by 2013.  After six years and gaining only 100,000 users, M-Pesa pulled out of South Africa – the continent’s largest economy.

Regardless of the growing use of smart phones and mobile apps, as of 2015, cash was still the preferred form of payment by more than 50 percent of South Africans.  Knowing this landscape soon after it entered the market in 2016, even Uber began accepting cash along with digital forms of payment.  And in the eCommerce industry, South African online retailers such as are now offering cash-on-delivery as a payment option.

According to, one of the reasons for cash’s popularity in South Africa is that 23 percent of the population is unbanked and therefore heavily dependent on cash for making payments.  However, that unbanked population in South Africa has been rapidly shrinking – in 2011, it was almost double, at 41 percent.

However, as financial inclusion grows in South Africa, it will create an even greater demand for cash – particularly via ATMs.  The positive outlook in South Africans’ financial inclusion is one of the drivers of Cardtronics’ decision to enter the market earlier this year with the acquisition of Spark ATM Systems, based in Cape Town, and its fleet of approximately 2,600 ATMs.

Other data on the status of cash in South Africa and its consumers’ preference for it as a top payment method is outlined in the latest Global Cash Index™, powered by Cardtronics.  Conclusions from the index include: 

  • Over 50 percent of the total value of all South African consumer transactions is covered by cash
  • While cash's share of the country's GDP has reduced, the total use of cash continues to rise
  • Infrastructure improvements, such as the availability of POS devices that support contactless payments, will be necessary before digital forms of payments overtake cash

South Africa is the latest report in the Global Cash Index series, which includes reports on Asia Pacific, the Americas, Eastern and Western Europe, and specific countries within these regions. 

Tom Pierce
Chief Marketing Officer 

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