Economic Benefits of Real-Time Payments Remain Largely Untapped
Japan’s Zengin is the oldest real-time payments infrastructure in the world, having been launched in 1973.
Japan recorded 1.7 billion real-time transactions in 2021, which resulted in an estimated cost savings of $3.3 billion for businesses and consumers. This in turn – which helped to unlock $4.3 billion of economic output, representing 0.09% of the country’s GDP.
With real-time transactions set to rise to 1.8 billion in 2026, – net savings for businesses and consumers are forecasted to reach $3.2 billion in 2026, . That would helping to generate an additional $4.2 billion of economic output, equivalent to 0.08% of the country’s forecasted GDP.
That means for the 3rd third largest global economy, the economic benefits of real-time payments remain largely untapped. According to the Cebr, the theoretical impact of all payments being real-time could add 1.9% to formal GDP by 2026. However, these are theoretically modelled modeled benefits, ; they do this does not suggest that there is no longer place for non-instant electronic payments or paper-based payments in the future.
Japan is an interesting case, as despite being the oldest real-time payments scheme, it still has not overtaken other payment tools in total payments volume. In terms of payments volume, Japanese consumers still favourfavor paper-based payments, which held a 68.9% share of total payments volume in 2021. By 2026, paper-based payments will see its payments volume market share decrease to 59.8%, but this decrease will benefit electronic payments (excluding real-time payments) while real-time payments will remain the same as it was in 2021, at 3%. But in terms of total payments spend, real-time payments (which all bank transfers are in Japan) is the dominant payments tool at an 89.6% share of total payments spend; this is predicted to slightly increase to 90.8% by 2026. Only financial institutions are allowed to provide real-time payments, which prevents fintech companies from joining the system. As a result, the real-time payments system may lack in terms of innovative development, in turn holding back the potential of the system to grow and reach more consumers and fulfil more use cases.
Real-Time Payment Types
Year of Real-Time
One way to describe the progress of real-time payments modernization in Japan is “on hold.” At a national level, Japan has had real-time payments in place for more than 20 years, but only for high-value payments. Because the country’s strong cultural attachment to cash persists, banks and institutions see no business case for low-value payments, and the large existing domestic market for high-value transactions provides little incentive to modernize. So, while the legacy infrastructure that’s in place is not ISO 20022-compliant, the market has not seen any real need for such compliance — until, that is, SWIFT mandated its adoption by November 2022.
Japan will surely only be able to resist the trend for wider real-time payments availability for so long, however. Perhaps in recognition of this, the Payment Clearing Network, which operates the Zengin clearing system, has established a number of task forces on real-time settlement. As is happening in China, the initial catalyst will be growing corporate demand for enhanced cross-border interoperability that would bring costs down. Again, as in China, this will necessitate leveraging more advanced payment architectures based on cloud best practices, which could in theory also be applied to low-value payments, triggering new use cases and boosting volumes significantly. Indeed, to make these modernizations pay in the long run, these innovations may be essential.
Banks, acquirers, merchants and PSPs would therefore be rewarded for accelerating modernizations in pursuit of enhanced abilities to bring to market added-value real-time payment use cases. To do so, they will need technology partners with proven experience in real-time payments around the world, and with the cross-border experience to connect Japanese payments infrastructure to regional neighboring systems such as PayNet (Malaysia) and BI-Fast (Indonesia).
Mobile Wallet Trends
% of adults who have a mobile wallet and have
used it in the past year (2021)
Population Banking Level
Number of debit, credit and
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F5 Yr CAGR
Payments Fraud Rate
Population who reported being a
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Share of Volumes by Payments Instrument
- Paper-based payments
- Electronic payments
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Real-Time Payments Volume and Its Share in Overall Non-Paper-Based Transactions, 2015-26f
Japan is a high-income country and the world’s third largest economy in 2021 (Cebr World Economic League Table, 2022).
Japan is one of the few advanced economies that remains predominantly cash-based (68.9% of all transactions), with just 3.0% of all transactions in 2021 made through real-time instruments. However, despite its low share of instant payments, Japan still stands to benefit greatly in economic terms from real-time technology.
In 2021, the total benefit to consumers and businesses was estimated to be $3.3 billion, the fourth largest share from Cebr’s 30-country economic impact assessment. This is primarily a result of the payments float mechanism: Japan’s payments mix has a high paper-based share combined with high-value, real-time transactions meaning that real-time payments unlock a total transaction value of $108.6 billion per day through the reduced float. The resulting working capital facilitates an estimated $3.1 billion of business output in the same year.
In 2021, Japan realized total macroeconomic benefits worth $4.3 billion or 0.09% of GDP, equivalent to the output of 56,538 workers.
The share of real-time payments is forecasted to remain at 3% to 2026. As a result, the economic impacts at the consumer and business level and the economy-wide level are predicted to remain broadly constant in real terms. In 2026, the benefit for consumers and businesses is forecast to be $3.2 billion, facilitating $4.2 billion of the total national output (0.08% of formal GDP); equivalent to the output of 52,195 workers.
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
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