Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

In recent years, the global economy has been subjected to extreme stress from multiple sources. Global public health, geopolitical instability, and interest rate shocks have exposed the economy’s dependence on seamless connections across labour, key input materials, goods, and services. This underscores the importance of the ability to efficiently make and receive payments, according to Mastercard’s 2023 Borderless Payments Report, with millions of consumers and SMEs worldwide increasingly dependent on both intra and cross border payment flows. 

In terms of forward looking analysis, the presence of technology that allows for swift and secure financial movements will play a critical role in the evolving global economy. 

This importance is amplified as households continue to recover sluggishly from the twin economic shocks of the pandemic and cost of living crisis. Accordingly, Mastercard research suggests that increasing numbers of workers are taking on additional jobs and/or migrating in the search of economic stability and opportunity. Businesses are also sourcing across a range of international suppliers. These structural economic shifts increase the importance of cross border payments infrastructure in order to facilitate these new economic patterns and relationships.  

Key Findings

Several critical takeaways revealed in the report include the widespread impact of increased costs of living affecting consumers and businesses across the board, particularly in the gig economy. Specifically, half of the surveyed consumers indicated they were considering living and working abroad as current economic uncertainty is driving an increase in geographic and digital migration. These kinds of structural shifts increase the need for more practical, lower cost digital payment solutions for cross border economic activity. This builds on the pre-existing importance of cross border payments infrastructure, with over three quarters of SMEs increasingly sourcing from international suppliers, relative to previous years. 

Consumer Insights: Prioritising Costs, Speed, and Simplicity  

Whilst 85% of the cross border consumers surveyed reported their earnings rose or remained steady over the past year, many reported that this is insufficient to keep up with rising prices. Over 50% of participants surveyed report that the current economic climate has had a “significantly negative impact” on their financial situations. As more consumers experience reduced earning power, low cost, convenient payment solutions are well placed to capture extensive market share in this context and the associated environment of increased economic migration. 

Fig 1 Cross Border Payments

Two in five consumers are now sending increasing amounts of money abroad to support families experiencing worsening financial conditions. According to the report, this trend is set to continue, with 41% of senders and 48% of receivers expecting the frequency and value of their cross border transactions to increase over the coming year.

Fig 2 Cross Border Payments

Moreover, half of the cross border transactors surveyed reported they would be likely to move to another country for work or solicit work from abroad over the next three years. The top five countries with respondents willing to do so are India, South Africa, Colombia, the Philippines, and Brazil respectively. 

Fig 4 Cross Border Payments

In this context, respondents also reported that current cross border payment services were inadequate for their needs. This is in spite of the cross border payments environment experiencing rapid changes in recent years, with dominance by banks with legacy correspondent models being supplanted by entrants prioritising digital approaches providing speed and lower costs. These developments are clear responses to consumer needs, but nevertheless remain inadequate, as approximately half of the respondents reported finding cross border payments to be both slower and more difficult to use than domestic payments. 

Another important element reported was concern over fraud. Interestingly, while more respondents had experienced domestic payment fraud rather than cross border fraud, approximately 40% felt more concerned about cross border payment fraud. 

Approximately 60% of respondents also agreed they would make more online cross border payments if there was greater fee transparency. The initial high, as well as potential for additional hidden costs, hinders greater cross border flows and, relatedly, economic activity. 

Fig 10 Cross Border Payments

Of those surveyed, gig workers (63%) reported the most widespread experience of negative economic conditions, compared to 53% of the total respondents. Accounting for approximately one in ten consumers making or receiving cross border payments, gig workers are a distinct sub-group of extensive cross border payment users, with wage disbursement volumes in the global gig economy projected to reach $298 billion in 2023. 

Fig 14 Cross Border Payments

Moreover, a significant portion of the population remains underserved in the global payments landscape. Over 50% of global remittances are paid to unbanked or underbanked individuals. This necessitates an often costly and time consuming cash payout option. 

Consumers also remain sceptical of current available solutions. In spite of widespread societal digitisation, one third of respondents reported they had not used online cross border payment tools, particularly due to fears of falling victim to fraud. Nevertheless, 78% of consumers rely on mobile apps to send or receive payments. 

Over half of surveyed respondents were willing to make more cross border payments online and in person if fees for such activities were more transparent. Lower upfront costs for transfers, as well as complete transparency over fee breakdowns were widely shared priorities for those surveyed. 

Reliable delivery of funds in a timely manner remained a concern for respondents. The impacts of late payments on consumers and businesses are particularly detrimental and remain a key area of concern in the sector. 

Small Business Insights: Increasing Utilisation of Global Supply Chains Requires Improved Payment Speed, Security, and Reliability 

SMEs are a key driver of global economic growth and employment, accounting for approximately 99% of firms and 70% of all jobs in developed countries. SME sentiment in the survey appeared more positive than reported on the consumer side, with 61% reporting that they had grown more than anticipated in the past 12 months. Relatedly, two in three surveyed SMEs reported revenue increases in 2023 compared to 2022, and three in five reported to have grown more than anticipated in the previous 12 months.

51% SMEs surveyed are also conducting more international business than in 2021 and were actively implementing strategies to grow global market share, whilst 75% plan to do more in the future. 61% are using more international suppliers and services compared to 12 months ago.

Approximately 65% of respondents were conducting more business online, as well as exponentially digitising business operations to adapt to new operating environments.

An increase in global sourcing and (re)integration into global supply networks is evident in almost every country surveyed. Three in five surveyed SMEs reported sourcing from more suppliers outside their own countries in comparison to 12 months ago. Notable exceptions include Germany and the UK.

SMEs’ experience of pandemic related supply chain disruptions has led to a generally more risk averse outlook for businesses relating to their sourcing plans. Two in three surveyed reported to be planning to source more suppliers, partners, and workers from across several countries in order to mitigate risk.

Fig 16 Cross Border Payments

In terms of payments, SMEs reported a clear preference for online or app based payment methods, with 81% agreeing that utilisation of online payments would improve business efficiency. 75% reported that using such methods had been a key driver in positive business performance, increasing efficiency, driving growth, and improving cash flow.

Fig 18 Cross Border Payments

Surveyed SMEs reported three key priorities for cross border payments: security, speed, and transparency. Respondents listed data security as the primary concern, relating to fears of fraud. Approximately four in ten respondents sought cross border funding delivered within 24 hours, whereas the current turnaround time ranges from two to five days.

With four in ten respondents listing fraud as a key concern, Mastercard projects that heightened perceived risk of fraud serves as the leading barrier preventing a quarter of SMEs from attempting to make or receive online cross border payments.

Fig 21 Cross Border Payments

Mastercard found significant variation in terms of transaction costs according to region. Nevertheless, four in ten SMEs complained about poor exchange rate offerings and high transfer fees. Mastercard reports these criticisms are well founded, with cross border payments costing up to 10 times more than domestic payments in some cases. This is compounded by over one third of SMEs reporting a lack of transparency regarding online payment costs.

Another key concern is late or failed payments. Over one third (37%) of SMEs have experienced late or failed payments when conducting cross border transactions. The most consequential effect of such scenarios is the late payment of suppliers. This resulted in over one third of SMEs being unable to purchase essential supplies and/or suffering reputational damage and damaging vital supplier relationships. This additionally results in these delivery difficulties making SMEs less confident to utilise cross border payments, instead using domestic suppliers from a smaller pool of options.

Fig 23 Cross Border Payments

Outlook 

Mastercard’s report presents a global survey with insights on the cross border and domestic payment experiences of participants across 15 countries. The key insights derived from the research indicate the criticality of cost effective and efficient payments systems for global economic activity. Whilst revenue and growth opportunities for payments service providers are self-evident and would present welcome trade facilitation opportunities, it is clear from the report that significant challenges will need to be met by service providers to address the concerns of consumers and businesses. 

Consumers reported clear demands for faster, more secure, reliable, and cost effective methods to move funding within and between countries. This need has grown in the current economic environment. 

Late or failed payments present immediate and long term negative impacts on both consumers’ and businesses’ economic activity. As workers and SMEs continue to follow the trend of global operations, this need for reliable payment solutions is amplified. In this context, speed and transparency are priorities, particularly for businesses, as late or failed payments hurt reputation, business activity, and critical supplier relationships.