Why cash is king in Malta

calendar iconJan 15, 2018


A recent payments research paper from the European Central Bank found that Malta's population of consumers use cash at Point of Sale more often than any other country within the EU, garnering interest from Financial Times and the Times of Malta. 

The report is unique in that it is the first to focus on cash use per household across the 19 euro area countries since the economic crash.  

Titled "Occasional papers series: The use of cash by households in the euro area", the insightful payments paper analyses poll answers collected from 65,000 people across the single currency area over 10 months. The ECB study found that 92% of all point of sale transactions were conducted via cash on the Maltese archipelago in 2016, which sits in the sunny Mediterranean sea between Italy's Sicily and North Africa's Tripoli.

In 2016, euro area consumers made 163 billion payments by means of cash, payment cards or other payment instruments, amounting to more than €2,968 billion. - ECB Occasional papers series 2017

Quick Facts

In 2016, cash made up:

  • 74% of the total value of transactions in Malta;
  • 54% of the total value of transactions in the EU;
  • 92% of the total number of transactions in Malta;
  • 88% of the total number of transactions in Greece and Cyprus;
  • 87% of the total number of transactions in Italy;
  • 79% of the total number of transactions in the EU;
  • 79% of the total number of transactions in Germany; and
  • 45% of the total number of transactions in the Netherlands.

Excerpt from Financial Times article 

Overall across the EU, just short of 80% of payments are in cash, amounting to 54% of the value of all payments.

“The ECB is neutral on all payment instruments, but the study clearly shows cash is widely used in the eurozone at points of sale,” said an ECB spokesperson. 

“People do tend to underestimate how much they use cash.”
"ECB spokespersonas quoted byThe Financial Times

Cheques, which have been largely phased in some countries, are still a common means of payment in Belgium, Ireland and France. Only in Cyprus is credit or debit card ownership less than 80 People with higher levels of education were more likely to use cards than other respondents. The pollsters forced many respondents to use diaries to write down all the payments and cash withdrawals they made in a single day. A total of 128,677 payments were recorded using this method.

Read full Financial Times article here 

Excerpt from Times of Malta article 

Although the ECB’s study did not delve into the reasons that southern member states were still more dependent on cash transactions despite easily accessible electronic banking payment services, leading economists who spoke to this newspaper said that one of the main reasons is “rampant tax evasion”...

...more than 20% said they paid their water and electricity bills in cash. Although the size of Malta's shadow economy is not quantifiable, a 2010 study projected its size at some 26% of GSP...

Read full Times of Malta article here

The survey results not only 'challenge the perception that cash is rapidly being replaced by cashless means of payment,' but also confirm that cash is still the predominant payment instrument across the Eurozone at a POS level. POS level refers to 'payments made in shops for day-to-day items, restaurants and petrol stations' in addition to purchases with street merchants, at convenience shop and for durable goods.

Excerpt from European Central Banks Occasional Papers Series report (p. 4)

To pay for their POS purchases, euro area consumers made 124 billion cash payments, 30 billion card payments and 3 billion payments by means of other instruments, such as cheques, direct debit, credit transfers and mobile payments. Although cash was mainly used for low-value purchases, it was used four times more often than debit or credit cards, bringing the total value of cash payments above that of all card payments.

Survey results show that cash was dominant at the POS...

Read full ECB report here


Camilleri, Ivan. "Malta is cash capital, says European Central Bank." Times of Malta. November 28, 2017. Accessed January 13, 2018.

Esselink, Henk, Lola Hernández. "Occasional papers series: The use of cash by households in the euro area". No 201. European Central Bank. Electronically published November 2017. Accessed November 25, 2017. 

Jones, Claire. "Cash remains king in the eurozone." Financial Times. November 24, 2017. Accessed January 16, 2018.

Which payment form was most used at Point of Sale by EU consumers in 2016?

Related Articles

Cash Matters Study Cash is King in Eurozone, finds new ECB study  The survey results not only “challenge the perception that cash is rapidly being replaced by cashless means of payment,” but also confirm that cash is still the predominant payment instrument across the Eurozone at a POS level. 

Cash Matters Quick Fact In 2016, cash was used in 79% of all POS transactions in Europe
This survey-based research makes for essential reading for policymakers and journalists discussing the cash debate as the public's answers debunk claims that digital payments are preferred throughout Europe. 

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Last Updated: Sep 3, 2021