Derasat-UNDP Bahrain Report examines COVID-19 impact on financial transactions, consumption behaviour

Manama: As part of its partnership with UNDP Bahrain to study the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (Derasat) published a report examining data on the number and value of financial transactions in the Kingdom of Bahrain, for the period from January 2019 to June 2020, aiming to analyze the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on various aspects of consumer behavior. This includes the pandemic’s effect on overall purchases, purchases per sector, consumer prices, and changes to various payment methods.

The report indicated a partial recovery by June 2020, after a considerable fall in point-of-sales transactions, attributed to self- and legally-imposed social distancing measures, which led to restructuring household consumption patterns, promoting household-based consumption (e.g. home-cooked meals, furniture, telecommunications services), at the expense of external consumption of goods and services (e.g. travel, hotels, clothes). A notable observation was people’s preference to shop in department stores and large supermarkets, for convenience and a perceived higher level of safety.

Price indices demonstrated the changing demand patterns, where prices increased in sectors that witnessed demand and vice versa. The overall consumer price index fell along with overall demand. The pandemic also brought profound changes to household consumer baskets.

Residents of the Kingdom of Bahrain shifted from cash to mobile contactless payments, out of necessity during stores closedown, and based on the common view of being less susceptible to contracting the virus. Despite this shift, debit cards and cash remain high, and the contribution of e-wallets is still minor.

In the long term, with the continuous shift to e-wallets, banks and fintech companies should provide highly-accessible and flexible mobile payment services, combined with efforts to raise consumer awareness of the benefits of mobile e-payment methods, to encourage their usage more frequently.

Notably, this report is an initial analysis within a more comprehensive study, conducted through a partnership between Derasat Center and the UNDP in Bahrain. The report was prepared by Dr. Omar Al-Ubaydli, Derasat Director of Research, and Research Fellow Dr. Fatima Al-Sebaie; with data provided by the Central Bank of Bahrain.