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Euro zone consumers still addicted to cash when they buy

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Cash still dominates consumer payments in the euro zone, even as many Western economies are rapidly moving towards electronic payments, a survey published by the European Central Bank showed on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Two Euro coins are seen after being minted in the Austrian Mint (Muenze Oesterreich) headquarters in Vienna June 20, 2013. EUTERS/Leonhard Foeger /File Photo

The figures indicate that the euro zone is one of the slowest among big Western economies in giving up cash, trailing countries like the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada.

Almost 79 percent of point-of-sale transactions were done in cash last year with the rate in Germany, the bloc’s biggest economy, at 80 percent, underscoring German unease over the ECB’s decision to phase out 500 euro notes, a move widely perceived as a first step in moving away from cash.

Having lived through devastating world wars and hyperinflation, economically conservative Germans rely heavily on cash and even in their banking prefer simple saving products, particularly cash deposits.

By contrast, cash is only used for about 15 percent of similar sales in Sweden with cash in circulation having declined for years, data from the Riksbank showed.

The Dutch and the Estonians used cash the least in the euro zone last year, with less than half of transactions in cash.

Cash is so vital in the euro zone that the average consumer carries 65 euros in their wallet with Germans holding over 100 at any one time.

But highlighting a potential game changer, the ECB said that contactless payments could rapidly increase the number of electronic transactions. In such sales, consumer tap their cards or phones against a terminal, completing small scale purchases instantly, often without the need to enter a PIN.

“The survey results suggest that the speed with which such payments have been embraced in some countries may mean that once payment cards and POS terminals are enabled with contactless technology on a wider scale, the share of contactless payments could increase significantly,” the paper said.

Still, contactless payments accounted for just 1 percent of sales, suggesting that any change is likely to be protracted.

Reporting by Balazs Koranyi Editing by Jeremy Gaunt