The Mastercard Economics Institute recently released a global outlook report, Economy 2021, which shares a detailed analysis of the economic impact of Covid-19, including permanent changes in digital consumer spending habits, growth of online banking, fintech disruption and opportunities to boost financial inclusion.
Among the key trends analysed in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is the sharp shift to digital platform use, driven by changed consumer behaviour, mobility restrictions and the necessity to generate business revenues beyond brick-and-mortar locations.Â
In terms of the e-commerce spending surge, the Mastercard Economics Institute estimates a permanent stickiness factor of 20-30 per cent in overall retail spending, a key consideration as businesses contemplate scaling up their digital transformation efforts.
This shift was also highlighted in a recent Mastercard e-commerce study, which revealed that 73 per cent of consumers in the UAE, as well as in the wider MEA region, were shopping more online than they did before the pandemic. The continuing trend away from cash is expected to be more persistent in economies such as the UAE, which already has a resilient e-commerce infrastructure and a young, digitally savvy population.Â
As e-commerce rapidly becomes a way to pandemic-proof a business, adoption by older generations and added convenience and lower costs for consumers will contribute to the continued growth of digital demand in 2021.
â€œThis growth of the digital economy represents a â€˜coming of ageâ€™ for e-commerce, a turning point in bridging the digital divide. We are heading for a multi-speed global recovery that favours low-touch over high-touch,â€ said David Mann, chief economist, Asia and MEA, Mastercard.
â€œSmall businesses and micro merchants are especially crucial to the regionâ€™s economies and by enabling them to accept digital payments, we can connect more people and communities to financial freedom and eventual prosperity.â€
Within the scope of accelerated digital transformation, the report also notes that continued digitalisation in MEA is key to advancing financial inclusion. The need to bring the population into the digital economy first through online banking solutions is paramount to delivering growth over generations to come. Fintech disruption in online banking is set to be a key driver for this.
Brick-and-mortar business creation is expected to decline further in 2021 in favour of online business creation and the adoption of initiatives that connect a merchantâ€™s sales data with access to capital.
Another aspect of advancing financial inclusion is leveraging cutting-edge technologies to connect consumers to small businesses and micro-merchants. As digital innovation improves and internet access increases, digital payment solutions such as contactless, virtual card numbers and quick response codes offer more possibilities than ever before.