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Report on Payment Systems. Learn about the evolution of payments in Portugal in 2018

Banco de Portugal publishes today the Report on Payment Systems. This report describes the functioning of payment systems in Portugal in 2018, drawing attention to the main developments and future challenges.


In 2018 retail payments in Portugal rose by 7.6% in number and 7.3% in value.

Banco de Portugal manages the Interbank Clearing System (SICOI), which processes retail payments made with bank cards, cheques, direct debits, bills of exchange, credit transfers, and instant transfers. In 2018 the number of payments processed in SICOI increased, following the trend of previous years. The system processed 2.7 billion transactions, to an amount of €491.5 billion, i.e. more 7.6% in number and 7.3% in value than in 2017 respectively.


Debit cards went up by 4.1% and credit cards increased by 2.3%.

Excluding cash, cards are the most widely used payment instrument in Portugal: in 2018 they were used in 86.6% of retail payments. Over the course of the year SICOI processed 2,368 million card transactions, amounting to €125.3 billion overall. Card transactions ranked second in terms of growth compared to the previous year, i.e. 8.4% in number and 8.9% in value. On average, there were 6.5 million card transactions per day. The average value per transaction, €53, is the lowest of SICOI.

Portugal is amongst the European Union countries with the highest number of cards per capita. At the end of the year there were 23.6 million active payment cards in Portugal (registered in the various networks operating in Portugal). Compared to 2017 the number of debit cards increased by 4.1% to 21.8 million, while the number of credit cards grew by 2.3% to 8.5 million (cards that simultaneously have debit and credit functions are considered in both categories). As at 31 December there were 349 thousand point-of-sale terminals (8.7% more than in 2017) and 14.1 thousand automated teller machines (ATMs) in Portugal, including the various entities operating in Portugal (2.3% fewer than in 2017).

51% of card transactions corresponded to purchases, 20% to low-value transactions, and 19% to withdrawals. Card transfers, although less relevant, grew the most: 27.7% in number and 13.5% in value, totalling 43.9 million transactions to an amount of €15 billion. This reflects an increase in card-based instant payments.

Online purchases accounted for 3.8% of the number and 5.7% of the total value of purchases made with Portuguese cards (3.9% of the number and 5.9% of the value in 2017).


At the end of the year 74% of point-of-sale terminals and 38% of payment cards allowed contactless payments.

Purchases using contactless technology increased by 157% in number and 170% in value (42.7 million transactions amounting to €599.2 million). Nonetheless, they accounted for only 3.6% of the number and 1.5% of face-to-face purchases in 2018.


Direct debits also rose, by 0.5% in number and 6% in value.

Direct debits were the second most widely used payment instrument in Portugal. After having been the payment instrument that increased the most in 2017, direct debits rose further in 2018, by 0.5% in number and 6% in value. Over the course of the year there were 180.2 million direct debits in Portugal, totalling €26 billion.


Credit transfers were the payment instrument that grew the most in terms of use.

In 2018, 156.1 million credit transfers were made in Portugal, to an amount of €249.3 billion. This payment instrument grew the most in terms of use: 9.0% in number and 12.1% in value. It was also the instrument that played the most relevant role in terms of value.


In 2018 the use of cheques declined by 12.2%. Nevertheless, cheques were used to make 120 thousand payments per day on average.

In 2018, following the trend of previous years, the use of cheques declined by 12.2% in number and 6.3% in value. Still, cheques were used to make 120 thousand payments per day on average.

Also, fewer cheques were returned compared to the previous year (-7.9%). As at 31 December 2018 the list of cheque defaulters included 15,427 entities, i.e. 10.6% fewer than in 2017. 


In 2018 payment systems in Portugal operated smoothly.

The smooth functioning of the economy requires resilient payment systems. In 2018 payment systems in Portugal operated without disturbance.

TARGET2-PT – the Portuguese component of the Eurosystem’s large-value settlement system for euro payments – processed 2.2 million transactions, to the amount of €1.7 trillion, which is equivalent to 9.4 times the Portuguese gross domestic product. The number of transactions rose by 13.2%, while settled values declined by 11.2%, in line with the trend of previous years.


The next few years will be challenging for entities operating in the payments market in Portugal. 

In 2018 there were important changes in the payments market, conducive to increasingly faster, safer and more convenient payment transactions. Instant transfers were launched publicly in Portugal in September. They allow users to send or receive funds up to €15 thousand per transaction within 10 seconds or less. In November the Eurosystem also started to offer a pan-European system for the settlement of instant payments, TARGET Instant Payment Settlement (TIPS), which on the launch date enabled transactions between participants from three countries (Germany, Spain and France).

The legal framework for payments was amended via the transposition of the revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2). Among other changes, two new payment services were regulated, opening the market to new service providers: account information services and payment initiation services. New methods of authentication for online transactions were also introduced.

Further developments are expected for payments in the next few years. The consolidation of two Eurosystem market infrastructures – TARGET2 (that processes payments) and T2S (that settles securities transactions) – is expected to take place in November 2021. This consolidation will involve important adjustments in the banking community’s methodologies and procedures, and Banco de Portugal is monitoring preparations.