For as long as we can remember, cash has stood the test of time. Yet, in recent years the shift towards electronic methods of payment has eclipsed cash, thrusting us towards becoming a cashless society. This is otherwise known as an economy whereby financial transactions are completed by electronic means rather than notes and coins.
In March 2020, we were told to, ‘stay at home, save lives’. No one could go out to spend money because all shops but the supermarket were closed and even they stopped accepting cash to prevent the spread of infection. While understanding the importance of minimising infection, the decision to stop accepting cash seemed bizarre considering the checkout assistants were touching every item of our shopping anyway. So, why was exchanging cash higher risk?
In my view, the pandemic is hugely responsible for setting us well ahead of ourselves to becoming a cashless society. There is no denying that we’ve been moving in this direction anyway, but recent times have certainly accelerated the transition.
Dare I say, we are entering the post pandemic era and are now conditioned to the fact that our cash is no longer as useful to us as it once was because of the real possibility that the cafe or restaurant you wish to visit may no longer accept cash.
I believe we should have the freedom to decide how we’d like to pay for our goods, whether that’s with cash or by electronic means. That said, electronic payments have many positive elements and impacts on society. For one, it's a lot easier to track what we spend. Our banking apps can now create monthly, weekly and even daily sum-ups of where we spend our money. This feature helped to curb my spending habits at Costa coffee when I saw how much I spent each month. Digital payments also mean no more stressful trips to the Bureau before travelling abroad as banks now convert currency for us when the card is used in foreign countries. What's more, electronic payments are said to be contributing towards lowering crime rates from the automatic paper trail that's left behind each time we tap our cards.
That said, there are risks associated with paying electronically. Perhaps the most concerning risk being the possibility of being hacked. Sadly, people are hacked all day, everyday to honest, hardworking people who fall victim to online scams. Since the pandemic, these scams have reached an all time high and they look identical to legitimate security checks.
Moreover, technology is temperamental. So, putting our unreserved trust in digital is taking a chance. For example, travelling to another country without physical currency is undoubtedly a gamble. If the app were to glitch, or you lost your phone / card, you’d be left with nothing. That’s why I’d highly recommend always carrying even a small amount of cash when straying a little further from home.
Perhaps the most concerning fact about going digital is that we don’t yet know the long term effects that living in a cashless society will have on us and the world we live in. I believe that unless the speed at which we move towards being cashless is slowed down, we risk mass isolation of the elderly. Another worry is children growing up with no appreciation of the value of money if they understand it as simplyan extension of technology.
In Sweden, spending is almost completely cashless. Cash payments fell from 39% in 2010, to just 9% in 2020. I believe the majority of that 9% will be older generations, reluctant to succumb to modernised ways of living.
In the UK, now only 1 in 6 transactions are with cash. The pandemic saw large retailers such as IKEA prohibit the use of cash in their stores. I believe these decisions are hugely responsible for the 35% drop in cash usage since 2020. It’s not necessarily because we want to stop using cash, but because we are left with no choice. And since we have become accustomed to paying cashlessly, we are now conditioned to being part of this new movement.
Unfortunately we’re living through a time where we're not sure of many things. However, it seems inevitable that soon, cash will become a thing of the past. Despite the drawbacks or worries about this, I ultimately believe the digital movement should be embraced. Recently, we’ve had to adapt and change ourselves to fit new ways of living and I see this as just another one of these lifestyle changes. Although, we should be cautious about the speed of this change so that everyone in society can at least adapt at their own pace. For most, the change won’t be that significant, perhaps even insignificant, while the elder generations may struggle to begin with. In the meantime, I suggest treasuring your notes, counting your coins and enjoy using cash before modern methods of payment take hold.