Yellow Book Statistics 2018


CEMLA publishes statistics on payments and financial market infrastructures (FMIs) pertaining member central banks of the Working Group on Payment Systems Issues for Latin America and the Caribbean (WGPS-LAC). This set of country and comparative statistics, known as the Yellow Book Statistics, are compiled annually and continuously updated.


Latin America and the Caribbean Toward a Cashless Reality*


  • Cash remains as the preferred payment method in most jurisdictions but cashless instruments continue to gain space.

  • Card payments are the most used cashless instrument, especially for smaller payments.

  • Only a few central banks have available information on e-money schemes, despite its growing presence across the region.

Financial technologies, new service providers and an unceasing modernization of the region's payment systems characterizes Latin America and the Caribbean toward a cashless reality. Notwithstanding, the pace of change remains relatively modest and digitization of all payments is yet to occur. Payment cards are the most used cashless instrument while the number of physical terminals is also expanding, especially POS terminals.

This reflects a state of change for which payments usually done with cash are becoming digital. Payment cards are replacing cash for smaller payments, and credit transfers are making cheques disappearing and are also a useful instrument for payments over USD300. Fast payments available in RTGS systems handled by central banks are a game changer in this respect. There are more than ten jurisdictions either running or planned to deploy a fast payment scheme making retail payments increasingly convenient, instantaneous and cheaper. Again, innovation is an important driver that will be influencing the coming years, possibly resulting in a new transformation of the payments ecosystem


But while cheques tend to disappear, cash remains in people's pocket. The range of cash holdings in Latin American and Caribbean population is wide among countries; in some Caribbean countries and Ecuador cash holdings doubles the regional average (USD495), while in about 30% of the region's countries the annual cash holdings per inhabitant is below USD300. Interestingly, large-denomination banknotes continue to increase across the region, reflecting its use as a store value and alternative to bank accounts.

From another angle, cash is still king as a percentage of GDP with a growing but stable ratio of 7%. Cashless payment instruments grew between 2013 and 2016 but presented a sluggishness at 3% after that year.

In contrast, cash as a mean of payment records a significant drop in comparison with card payment transactions. This is mainly explained by the increasing value of payments done with debit and, especially, credit cards, and a steady amount of pocket's cash. Moreover, small-denomination banknotes reduce its presence year over year; in some Latin American and Caribbean countries, the smallest denominations now represented less than a half of what they summed five years ago.


On the face of becoming cashless societies, Latin American and Caribbean countries also record a growing number of available cards and points of acceptance. This could eventually lead to a situation where cash is being replaced by digital payment instruments. POS terminals and the number of payment cards both increased from 2013 to 2018. On average there is 0.92 debit card per inhabitant in the region, but only 0.12 e-money cards. In the Caribbean the average is higher and in countries like Curacao and Sint Maarten and Trinidad and Tobago there are about two cards per inhabitant.


As expected, card usage varies significantly across countries. The average value of transaction with payment card in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Paraguay is below USD40, while in Colombia and Ecuador the average moves between USD50 and USD60. 

Transactions around USD30 and USD60 seem to be a range for daily transactions that used to be done in cash. This effect of dropping cash against card for an increasing number of smaller payments can be explained by a larger and more convenient POS infrastructure.

Concerning POS terminals, the figures vary widely across the region. On average, there are near 18 terminals per 1,000 inhabitants, but countries like Bolivia and El Salvador lag behind with less than 5 terminals on average. And despite the major number of POS terminals and cards, individuals still use these payment instruments and channels to cash out.

On another note, from 2013 to 2018, the average value of cash withdrawal at ATMs increased in 60%, in real terms . This should not be the case for a cashless reality looking ahead. 

The propagation of payments based in mobile phone phones is a key aspect to continue monitoring, to determine if new alternative access channels promote a greater cashless environment. For instance, in countries where e-money schemes are already present, mobile payments should tend to grow among the population without bank accounts, under certain acceptance conditions. Moreover, POS terminals are seeing an important reform with mobile and contactless technologies internationally, yet its presence is still low along the region. Investments in such technologies could help to deepen the use of payment cards in the coming years.

To conclude, payments will continue to change as technological innovation does . Central bank digital currencies, fast payments schemes, among other developments will be shaping the future of payments sooner or later. The appetite for such a modernization is explained by a society moving to digital, and in the case of payments this should be nurtured by the industry, including central banks.
The Yellow Book Statistics are a purposeful tool to understand the rapid transformation in payments and market infrastructures across Latin America and the Caribbean. This note was prepared to reflect the Statistics' potential uses.



* This note was prepared by Raúl Morales Reséndiz, Manager of Financial Markets and Infrastructures, with the collaboration of Gerardo Gage and Laura Sanchez. The authors were benefited with comments of Serafín Martínez Jaramillo, Advisor to the General Directorate, all from CEMLA.
1/ Values adjusted by CPI inflation.
2/ Bech, M. et. al. Shaping the future of Payments. CPMI Red Book Statistics. Bank for International Settlement. November 2019.



The country tables present annual data on the use of payment instruments and activity on payment systems and market infrastructures for WGPS-LAC member countries.

The country tables comprise three main areas of the payments' and financial infrastructures' ecosystem:

  • General statistics on macroeconomic factors, which are useful to relate the size of the country's payment and market infrastructures against the size of its economic activity. This area includes figures on cash in circulation, reserves held by banks at the central bank, among other figures;

  • Overall functioning of retail payments, including details of payment services providers, payment instruments available for individuals, businesses and government, the availability physical terminals (access points), and the usage of such instruments and access points; and

  • Details of the financial market infrastructures (FMIs), including participation and activities in the wholesale payment systems, central securities depositories and other supporting infrastructures.

Users are invited to read the footnotes included in each table for a proper and better use and interpretation of the reported figures.

Statistics are updated by submission of the WGPS-LAC member central banks and published once a year.

country tables

The comparative tables consist of a set of indicators presenting key data from the country tables from all WGPS-LAC member central banks.

They are a useful tool on quantitative and qualitative information for both, the payments' and financial infrastructures' ecosystem, on a regional basis. Some of the indicators presented in the comparative tables consist on payment card schema, retail and wholesale payment systems, central securities depositories, and other financial market infrastructures.

The comparative tables are prepared by CEMLA and are updated and published together with the country tables once a year.

Comparative Tables

The Yellow Book Statistics are supplemented by a methodology aimed at providing users and reporting central banks with descriptions of the country tables. This methodology facilitates the compilation of country data in a consistent and comparable way.

It entails the terms that are frequently used in the tables with the goal of facilitating the data collection and helping the interpretation of the tables' content. For each table, the methodology includes an introductory note and the description of individual items explaining what the figures include.

Methodological Support