U.S. Lags China, Others in Payments Tech. One Reason: Boomers Strongly Prefer Cash, Cards

Gen Z adults, millennials more likely than older groups to say they'd use app, phone for payments
(Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Samantha Elbouez)
March 11, 2021 at 12:01 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • About a quarter of Gen Z adults said they would feel more comfortable using their phone or an app to pay a business $1,000, compared with nearly half who prefer using a card or cash.

  • Nearly 7 in 10 baby boomers said they would rather use cash or a card to pay a business $1,000, while 1 in 10 said they’d be more comfortable using their phone or an app.

  • About a third of U.S. adults said they’re equally comfortable paying another person or a business $10 or $100 in cash, credit or via their phone or an app.

A new special report from Morning Consult takes a deeper dive into public opinion on financial technology, an issue that’s likely to transform both the banking industry and how Washington regulates the finance industry. The data is drawn from a poll of 4,400 adults. Other stories in the series: Fintech Backers Tout Expanded Access to Financial Services, but Underserved Groups Aren’t as Interested | To Gauge the Future of Lending, We Asked People if They’d Get a Fintech Loan

While rapidly growing economies like China have switched from cash to apps like Alipay, mobile payments in many parts of the United States have barely caught on, as Americans stick to a deeply embedded system of credit and debit cards.

A lot of that drag is coming from older Americans, new data from Morning Consult suggests. Gen Zers and millennials are more comfortable than their older counterparts to pay other people and businesses using an app, such as PayPal, Venmo or Splitwise, while larger shares of Gen Xers and baby boomers generally prefer to use cash or a card. 

Those trends largely persist regardless of the amount of money being paid. In other words, young adults are more likely than older ones to prefer using their phone or an app regardless of whether the amount being paid is $10 or $1,000.

Overall, 47 percent of adults said they are more comfortable using cash or a card if they want to pay another person $10. Nineteen percent said the same about using their phone or an app for those payments, and 33 percent said they are equally comfortable with either payment approach. Those shares stayed relatively unchanged for $100, though respondents became more likely to say they wanted to use cash or a card at $1,000.

Among Gen Z adults and millennials, the level of comfort with payment technology was higher than older generations, with 3 in 10 saying they are more comfortable paying another person $10 with an app or phone.

The younger adults are a little less comfortable as the amounts go up, with 26 percent saying they’re more comfortable with tech payments to another person at $100 and 25 percent for Gen Zers and 23 percent for millennials at $1,000.

Among the generational demographics, baby boomers had the lowest comfort level with app and phone payments. 

Just 8 percent said they would be comfortable with using an app or phone to pay another person $10, $100 or $1,000. In comparison, 69 percent of the generation said they’re more comfortable with paying another person $10 with cash or a card. while 68 percent said the same at $100 and 74 percent at $1,000.

The results for payments to people were similar with the comfort levels for paying a business. Overall, 18 percent of adults were more comfortable using a phone or an app to pay a business $10, 46 percent were more comfortable using cash or a card and 36 percent said they were equally comfortable with both. Those shares were roughly the same at the $100 level, and just like with the $1,000 payments to another person, a larger share (56 percent) were more comfortable with using cash, cards or checks versus an app or phone for that amount to a business.

Again, the level of comfort with fintech payments was higher among younger generations in regard to paying a business.

Twenty-three percent of Gen Z adults and 27 percent of millennials were more comfortable using a payments app or phone to pay a business $10; 24 percent and 25 percent for $100; and 24 percent and 20 percent for $1,000, respectively.

For baby boomers, those figures dropped to 10 percent for all three payment levels. 

Claire Williams previously worked at Morning Consult as a reporter covering finances.

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