Digital transactions, virtual wallets and AI: use is growing among SMEs and freelancers in Euro

In Italy, the use of digital wallets has increased by 22% in the last year, the highest rate in Europe, while the adoption of artificial intelligence among SMEs has risen from 0.2% to 4%. At a European level, digital transactions are increasingly replacing traditional payments, with significant growth in virtual cards and online transactions.

Qonto, the European leader in corporate financial management, has published its third Report on the payment habits of over 500,000 SMEs and freelancers in Italy, France, Germany and Spain. The analysis shows a clear shift towards the use of virtual cards and online transactions, although offline payments continue to represent the majority of the market.

“Our Report demonstrates a significant digital transformation among European SMEs, with an increase in the use of digital tools and virtual wallets. Italy leads the way in virtual payments via e-wallets, despite the use of cards physical remains important”, comments Mariano Spalletti, Managing Director for Italy of Qonto. “Even the most traditional European SMEs are adopting digital technologies to remain competitive, demonstrating resilience and adaptability.”

The use of digital wallets such as Apple Pay and Google Pay has contributed significantly to this growth, with a 13% decline in traditional physical in-store payments and an overall increase in virtual payments. In Italy, Apple Pay accounts for 86% of digital wallet transactions among Qonto customers, despite Google Pay’s faster growth.

At the European level, the adoption of AI tools among SMEs increased from 1% in the first quarter of 2023 to 8% in 2024. In Germany, the use of AI rose from 0.5% to 13% , followed by Spain (0.9% to 11%) and France (8%).

SME online transactions are on the rise, although offline payments continue to account for two-thirds of transactions. However, offline payments have decreased by 3% over the past year, while online payments have increased by 6%. In Spain, 63% of card spending takes place via the Internet, compared to 68% in France and 72% in Italy, where POS transactions are preferred.

The use of virtual cards is growing rapidly, especially for more expensive transactions. Although physical card transactions still account for 91% of the total in Europe, the adoption of virtual cards has increased significantly. In Italy, the growth rate of virtual cards is four times higher than physical cards (35% vs 8%), even though the latter are used in 91% of cases. Spain is at the forefront of this trend, with more than a third of transactions made via virtual cards, compared to 11% in Germany and less than 8% in France.