The digital divide is the gap between those benefiting from the digital age and those who are not. During the pandemic, digitisation was the key to survival for countless businesses, pushing many to board this digital train.

Beyond digitals and non-digitals

This divide is not simply a binary distinction between the digitals and the non-digitals. Each group can be split into various subgroups with many different levels of digitisation.

For individuals, this digital divide is strongly linked with adoption. To what extent do people let digital technologies into their lives? When they experience something as natural, the technology behind it becomes invisible and normal. For example, being able to complete a bitcoin transaction (in terms of knowledge, technological capabilities and skills), does not mean the individual willwish to make the transaction in this way.

Whilst the digital divide is often discussed at the level of individuals, it also exists between companies and even nations.

The digital divide between companies

The Covid-19 crisis showed that boarding the digital train was critical to remain solvent during the pandemic.

Companies primarily offering non-digital experiences (e.g. pure brick-and-mortar shops) quickly implemented digital alternatives such as switching to online ordering for home delivery or click and collect.

Those that were already offering digital options often had to adapt to the new consumer behaviour. Creating differentiating experiences in a crowded space became a priority.

Companies also had to adapt their internal operations (digital and non-digital). Employees went from interacting face-to-face to interacting face-to-screen, creating new demands for IT infrastructures and security. Some call centres had to move to a home-based mode of operation. This is something Worldline helped many organisations to achieve, with our cloud-based Contact solution now supporting the customer communications of over 100 banks.

For many, Covid-19 resulted in several years’ worth of digital transformation in just 12 months. Many of these changes are permanent or semi-permanent, and many employers are now considering working arrangements that would have been unheard of 18 months ago.

The digital divide between nations

The digital divide is influenced at the country level by a mix of local regulations, cultural differences and enabling infrastructures.

Regulatory changes such as the one being proposed in Belgium to require shops to accept at least one electronic means of payment, can act as accelerators of adoption.

"The digital divide is influenced at the country level partly by local regulations, cultural differences and the availability of enabling infrastructure."

Cultural differences are also a significant factor. For example, the study conducted by the European Central Bank (ECB) into consumer behaviours and preferences in the euro area found that the percentage of people saying it is important or very important to have the option to pay in cash is much higher in some regions than others (e.g. 74% in Germany versus 41% in Belgium).

In terms of infrastructure, fast and high-bandwidth communications can increase the responsiveness and usability of applications, therefore encouraging adoption. 5G illustrates this well. Many countries have already rolled out or have started rolling out their 5G network, with 30% of the world’s countries having access to 5G as of February 2021. At the other end of the spectrum, other countries have not even begun their roll-out.

The digital divide