Dutch digital payment and banking world ‘leaving people behind’

The increasingly digitisation of the banking and payment world is leaving a growing and diverse group of people behind, according to findings by De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB). Its new report, from January 2023, called ‘Digitisation of the payment system: a solution for some, a challenge for others’, has revealed that around 2.6 million Dutch people aged 18 and older are struggling with the digital payment world.

The report was called a breakthrough by the Dutch Consumer Association, who said it reveals for the first time that the issue affects a large, diverse collection of people, which is on the rise rather than shrinking.

Among some of the most affected are the lower educated, people with lower digital proficiencies, as well as people aged above 75. Individuals in this group, estimated to make up one in six adults in the country, need the support of someone else to conduct their digital banking and payment affairs, mainly operating devices such as ATM machines and digital payment terminals, but also using online banking. They may find the language too complicated, experience time-pressure stress, have difficulties reading, or lack internet access.

The most-affected group concerns about 400.000 people aged 18 and older, who are wholly reliant on others when it comes to their online banking or payment affairs. This set of people, largely made up by elderly generations and lower educated, struggle with feelings of embarrassment, powerlessness, anger, inferiority and sadness, and struggle to have to rely on others, according to the research.

There are also banking customers that do not wish to make use of digital services, perhaps through fear of making a mistake and losing money, or finding it too cumbersome or complex, or not trusting digital systems. Banks do offer some digital support measurements, but according to the DNB, they differ per bank, and are insufficiently known among customers.

The whole picture
As part of the increasing digitisation of banking services, banks have also been closing branches around the country, making it more difficult for customers to visit their bank in person. It has been estimated by the Public Consultation on Payments that in 2021 only 726 branches were left, down from 2654 bank branches that existed in 2011. According to research by the Dutch news website NU.nl, the three largest Dutch banks ABN AMRO, ING and Rabobank had closed over a hundred other branches in 2022. Meanwhile ATMs have also been closing around the country, although since 2019, ATMs from the major banks have been merged into ATMs called Geldmaat, available on many high streets.

Dutch customers are also less and less able to pay in cash at stores, as discussed elsewhere in this edition of the Holland Times. In 2022, over 4% of retailers did not accept cash, said the DNB, which monitors the situation yearly. The financial authority has warned that cash is an important means of payment, and that retailers should continue to accept it as legal tender.

In addition, the Dutch Consumer Association has also pointed out that the government and other authorities are also digitising their services, and that this digitalisation causes wider issues, threatening to exclude large numbers of people.

How to move forward?
The DNB and authorities such as the Dutch Banking Association (NVB) have stressed that in future, banking and payment affairs should remain inclusive, for example with physical contact and personal telephone support instead of chatbots.

Banks do recognise the issue, the DNB has stated in response to the findings, and the major banks are saying they cooperate with each other and with other organisations in a special “Banks’ commitment to more accessible payment systems” to do so. For example, they collaborate with libraries where bank customers can get help with their questions. With this study, DNB says it contributes to the “Action Plan for Accessible Payments” of the MOB, to ensure banks improve their services, better inform people about them and also detect the issues and find out how they can be remedied.

Written by Femke van Iperen