Keeping track of your bank transactions

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Recent years have seen significant changes to the way we pay for goods and services in the UK.

Between 2008 and 2018, the total number of debit card purchases made in the UK rose by 180%, from 5.4 billion to 15.1 billion.1 Figures from UK Finance, the trade body for the finance and banking sector, confirm that this upward trend in usage continued in 2019, with 1.6 billion debit card transactions in October alone.2

Using consumer sentiment and UK Finance data, we examine how the UK’s unfolding payments revolution is affecting the way we manage our bank accounts and potentially leaving us open to the risk of fraud.

The rise of debit cards and the decline of cash

It used to be said that cash is king, but fewer transactions are now made each year with notes and coins than with debit cards. Debit cards finally replaced cash as the most common method of payment in 2017.1

Payment types as a percentage of all UK payments 2008-2018

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One of the main reasons why debit card transactions have rocketed is the introduction of contactless payments (initially up to a limit of £20 – this was increased to £30 in 2015), which ushered in a new era of speed and convenience for lower value purchases. The number of contactless payments accounted for 43% of the total number of payments made with a debit card in 2018.1

Proportion of payments made with a contactless debit card in the UK per year

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The average number of debit card transactions per debit card holder increased every year between 2008 and 2018, and almost doubled across that ten-year period.1

This increase amounts to an extra 170 debit card transactions a year, on average, for each individual debit card holder during that time.

Proportion of payments made with a contactless debit card in the UK per year

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If the mechanics of how we buy products and services such as train tickets is changing, we will inevitably see the results on our bank statements.

If you take out money at a cashpoint it shows up as a single transaction on your statement. Each debit card transaction, however, shows up as a new line item, meaning longer statements and more items to review.

According to MoneySuperMarket survey data, over two in five (43%) of consumers agree that bank statements have become longer, while more than a quarter (28%) said that there are too many items on their bank statement to keep track of them all.

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Meanwhile 12% said they did not accurately track everything they spent on their debit card, while one in 10 did not feel confident that they would spot a hidden charge or payment.3

It’s always a good idea to check your account in as much detail as possible to keep track of exactly how much you’re spending and what you’re spending it on.

The reduction in individual debit card transaction values

While the number of debit card transactions has increased in the last 10 years, the average value of those transactions has been steadily declining. 

The average transaction value has fallen by a quarter (25%) - from £53.00 in 2008 to £40.00 by 2018.1

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The ability to pay for small value items quickly and easily just by tapping or waving our cards – as well as our smartphones or smartwatches – is likely to have contributed to the lower average transaction value over time.

Between 2008 and 2010 – when contactless payments were introduced – the average transaction value actually increased each year by an average of 0.5%. But, since 2011 the average transaction value has decreased each year, with the biggest decline (-6.4%) in 2018.1

Average debit card transaction value and percentage change between 2008 and 2018 for UK card holders

Year

Number of Contactless Debit Payments in UK

Average Debit Card Transaction Value (ATV)

ATV Change from Previous Year

2008

0

£53

1.20%

2009

0

£53

0.20%

2010

1,000,000

£53

0.20%

2011

4,000,000

£52

-2%

2012

21,000,000

£51

-2.20%

2013

85,000,000

£50

-1.30%

2014

278,000,000

£48

-4.10%

2015

911,000,000

£47

-1.30%

2016

2,521,000,000

£45

-4.30%

2017

4,900,000,000

£43

-4.80%

2018

6,326,000,000

£40

-6.40%

These lower value transactions could also be influencing our ability to keep track of our finances. It may feel as though we are spending less when we see smaller amounts on our bank statements, even if these ultimately add up.

Smaller amounts are also less likely to stand out on your statement than larger figures, and it may be easier to miss fraudulent activity or even a payment that went through by mistake. 

Just over a quarter (26%) of our survey respondents examine their statement for small amounts from unusual sources, which suggests these types of transactions could slip through the net.3

And with the number of transactions increasing, and the values of those transactions declining, it becomes even more important to take the time to check your bank statement thoroughly.

How different generations manage their finances

The good news is that consumers of all ages appear to be checking their account regularly. 

Under three quarters (71%) of those aged 55 and over – the least diligent in this respect – check their account at least once a week, which was only slightly below the average (75%) across all age groups.3

More debit card holders in younger age brackets check their bank accounts every day (30% of 18 to 24 year-olds, 37% of 25 to 34 year-olds and 34% of 35 to 44 year-olds respectively), compared to just 25% of those aged 55 or over.3

But, despite checking their accounts less frequently, the older generations appear to be more thorough when they do. Less than half of 18 to 44 year-olds check all items on their bank statements, compared to 61% of 45 to 54 year-olds and 77% of those aged 55 or over.3

Percentage of people who check all items on their bank statement, by age

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Older debit card holders also tend to be more confident in managing their finances.

Those aged 55 or over are the most confident that they would spot hidden charges or payments on their statement. They are also most likely across all age groups to say they accurately track everything they spend and have cancelled all unnecessary direct debits or standing orders.3

In contrast, those aged 18 to 24 are the least confident in those same areas, and are much more likely to feel like there are too many items on their statement to review.3

Debit card management by age group

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But, despite appearing to be both less confident about managing their finances and less thorough when checking their statement, younger generations are the least worried about the security of their account. Around three quarters (74%) of 18 to 24 year-olds believe bank account are safer than they were a decade ago, compared to just 57% of those aged 55 or over.3

Even if you trust your bank to keep your account secure, it’s important that you take the time to review your statement regularly and thoroughly, keeping an eye out for payments from unexpected sources or unusual locations.

Are we more susceptible to payment fraud today than we used to be?

With an increasing number of smaller value items to review on our bank statements, the potential for missing a fraudulent transaction may be higher than it once was.

While only 7% admitted that they would struggle to spot a fraudulent transaction due to the number of items of their statement, and only 6% because they wouldn’t know what a fraudulent transaction looked like, these numbers perhaps tell only part of the story.3

When asked if they would spot a fraudulent transaction no matter the size, or spot a fraudulent transaction from a name they didn’t recognise, only 54% and 51% of people agreed, respectively.3 This suggests a significant proportion of the population weren’t confident that they would be able to do so.

And for some security was certainly an issue, with nearly a quarter (22%) of respondents saying bank accounts are less safe than they used to be.3

In reality, however, there has been a relatively small rise in money lost to debit card fraud – up from £610 million in 2008 to £671 million in 20181 - although an increase was recorded in seven of the ten years analysed.

Top tips for managing your debit card account

With the gradual shift from paper bills to online and app-based financial management, here are some simple tips to help you stay on top of your debit card payments and minimise the risk of fraudulent activity:

Read your bank statement line by line – Keeping a close eye on your financial transactions is the best way to ensure everything is above board and that all payments are legitimate

Check your account more regularly – The longer you leave it before checking your account the more items there will be to review. Try to review your statement on a weekly basis if possible, or monthly at a minimum

Use mobile banking apps – The banking landscape is changing, and apps mean you can manage your finances in real time, on the move. They can also assist you in setting budgets or spend limits. Finding one that works for you is a great way to keep your finances in check

Enable push notifications on banking mobile apps – Your phone can send you a notification whenever you spend any money, meaning you’ll know immediately when a standing order has been paid or if a fraudulent transaction has taken place.

For more information on current account security, take a look at our guide to bank fraud.

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Sources

  1. The following data is according to ‘UK Payment Statistics 2019’ by UK Finance, published in July 2019 and which looks at financial management in the UK from 2008 to 2018
  2. https://www.ukfinance.org.uk/
  3. Consumer sentiment research carried out by Research Without Barriers commissioned by MoneySupermarket between 15th and 18th November 2019. The sample comprised 2,003 UK adults who have a bank account with a credit card.

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