Real-Time Payments Forecasted to Help Generate $18.7 Billion of Additional GDP by 2026
In 2021, China recorded the largest macroeconomic benefit out of the 30 countries covered in the Cebr economic impact study.
In 2021, 18.5 billion real-time transactions were made in China. The widespread adoption of real-time payments resulted in an estimated cost savings of $15.4 billion for Chinese businesses and consumers. This helped to unlock $18.7 billion of additional economic output, which represents 0.11% of the country’s GDP.
With real-time payment transaction numbers expected to rise to 31.3 billion in 2026, net savings for consumers and businesses are forecasted to climb to $27.4 billion. That would help to generate an additional $27.5 billion of economic output, equivalent to 0.13% of the country’s forecasted GDP.
In 2010, China launched its real-time payments system called the Internet Banking Payment System (IBPS) to strengthen its banking infrastructures and boost non-cash payments. In 2021, it was ranked as the second country in the world in terms of the transaction volume of real-time payments. In 2021, real-time payments represented a 5.7% share of total payments volume with a 9.5% share of total payments spend — showing that even as the second-ranked real-time payments market worldwide, it still has a lot of growth potential. While its payments volume share was the smallest compared to electronic payments (excluding real-time payments) at 72.1% and paper-based payments at 22.2%, its payments spend was the second largest at 9.5%, putting it ahead of paper-based payment transactions. 2026 projections are expecting real-time payments to lose market share in transaction volume, dropping to 4.7%, but to experience a strong increase in its share of payments value, as it is projected to reach 14.6%.
With the high level of mobile wallet adoption in China, there is a lot of room for real-time payments to grow. This growth could be further driven by the introduction of the central bank digital currency: the e-Yuan. However, this all depends on how integrated the existing financial system is to be with the e-Yuan. It remains to be seen what the impacts of this development for the market will be, and China is a critical case study for the future of real-time payments as a result.
Real-Time Payment Types
Year of Real-Time
The Chinese real-time market is in an interesting transition phase, as the government seeks to take greater control of developments, which have until now been shaped by the mobile wallet providers (chiefly Alipay and WeChat Pay). Ironically, both owe their market dominance to an earlier reluctance of Chinese banks to respond to government’s efforts to establish a national real-time payments infrastructure. Alipay and WeChat Pay moved into the resulting gap in the market, and features such as QR-code payments have established mobile wallets as the most popular payment method.
The platform for the government’s efforts is Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP), the digital payment and processing network operated by the Central Bank of China. DCEP started trials in April 2020 and is now being gradually rolled out in major cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, as the central bank advances its plans to replace physical cash with a digital currency, the digital yuan. As a sign of how serious the government is, newspapers have carried reports that the payment licenses for Alipay and WeChat Pay might be withdrawn.
A further sign of centralization is the government mandate that any real-time payments infrastructure and technology must be home-developed — a response to trade tensions between the U.S. and China and to the restrictions placed by the former on Chinese technology providers such as Huawei.
This strategy means there are currently limited opportunities for banks and financial institutions to innovate in the low-value payments space. However, in a country as accustomed to digital payments as China, and as fast-moving technologically, it is inevitable that DCEP’s wider adoption will generate new use cases that in turn drive higher volumes. When this happens, banks, processors, acquirers and PSPs must have the systems in place to innovate and differentiate in response to consumer and business needs. ISO 20022 modernizations, which have been mandated by SWIFT for all its participants, are the best entry point for standing up these systems. This would also be a route to maximizing return on investment for complying with the new mandate.
Mobile Wallet Trends
% of adults who have a mobile wallet and have
used it in the past year (2021)
Real-Time Total Participants
Population Banking Level
Number of debit, credit and
charge cards per adult
Index to global average
F5 Yr CAGR
Payments Fraud Rate
Population who reported being a
victim of fraud in the last 4 years
Top 3 Payment Fraud Types
|% of fraud victims||Trend|
Card details stolen/skimmed in person
Shares of Volumes by Payments Instrument
- Paper-based payments
- Electronic payments
- Real-time payments
Real-Time Payments Volume and Its Share in Overall Non-Paper-Based Transactions, 2015-26f
China is classified as an upper-middle-income country and ranked the 2nd largest global economy in 2021 (Cebr World Economic League Table, 2022).
Net benefits for consumers and businesses of real-time payments in 2021 hit $15.4 billion, with real-time accounting for 5.7% of all transactions. The largest component of net savings was a reduction in the payments float, which subsequently unlocked working capital for businesses.
Based on current adoption levels in China, real-time payments unlocked a total transaction value of $170.1 billion per day in 2021 through the reduced float time. This working capital facilitated an estimated $12.4 billion of business output in the same year.
The macroeconomic benefits of current real-time adoption rates in 2021 were estimated to be $18.7 billion of formal economic output. This is equivalent to 0.11% of Chinese GDP, or the output of 853,695 workers annually.
By 2026, consumer-and business-level benefits will rise to $27.4 billion again with the payments float reduction making the largest contribution. This will be despite real-time payments’ share of all transactions dropping to 4.7% in relative terms. Based on 2026 adoption estimates, the forecasted macroeconomic benefits in 2026 are estimated to be $27.5 billion of economic output (0.13% of forecasted GDP).
For Businesses and Consumers
Net savings stimulated by real-time payments
Projected net savings stimulated by real-time payments
of economic output
of GDP facilitated by real-time payments
Projected of economic output
of GDP facilitated by real-time payments
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