Credit cards, fuel cards, customer cards – nobody needs that many cards. Paying is much easier: with a cell phone, watch or the blink of an eye. The peak of card payments has been reached.

Are plastic cards a thing of the past?

Dhe wallets of the Germans are getting bigger and bigger. This is not because we carry around larger wads of banknotes or more coins than before. On the contrary: the average German wallet contains 100 euros in bills and 6.29 euros in coins and thus around eleven euros less cash than ten years ago, as the Bundesbank determined. The fact that today’s purses and wallets are bursting at the seams is mainly due to the large number of plastic cards that we carry with us.

98 percent of the population, more than ever before, have a girocard, what used to be called an EC card. Credit cards are also becoming more popular, with more than one in three Germans now owning at least one. There are also prepaid cards, customer cards to collect loyalty points and payment cards for refueling, for dining in the cafeteria or for beer and bratwurst in the football stadium. According to a Bundesbank study on payment behavior in 2017, they are all gaining in importance. And then there are all the other indispensable plastic squares such as driver’s license, ID card, health card and so on that have to be stored somewhere. The result: there is a hell of a lot of plastic in our wallets. Does it have to be that way?

The answer is simply: no. Carrying an inch-thick wallet in your pocket or purse like we do is an unnecessary burden. Because a lot of what is stored on the chips of the plastic cards in this country could just as well and just as securely be stored on a smartphone or other device.

The plastic card as a transitional medium

Other countries are already doing this: In Kosovo, ID documents have been stored in an app for some time, so that only the cell phone has to be pulled out during a police check – a German company made it technically possible. The Finns are in the process of testing their digital driver’s license. And the Chinese, enthusiastic about any technology and ignorant of data protection, are already doing everything digitally and mobile.

It is becoming more and more apparent that the plastic card is a transitional medium that will no longer be needed half a century after its introduction. “The card will find its way into the cell phone and people will have less plastic in their pockets,” predicts Ralf Ohlhausen, head of development at the payment specialist PPRO. The death of the card will of course not occur suddenly, but will take place gradually.

The development away from plastic cards is the furthest advanced in payments: in many countries around the world, smartphones are increasingly replacing wallets, and even small amounts of money are paid with a mobile device. This is now easily possible in this country too. “In the last few decades, the rule has always been: cash or card. That has now been broken down into several payment methods, ”says Volker Koppe, who is responsible for digital in Central Europe at the Visa credit card company.