Martin Redhead,Market Insight Manager
I recently had the great pleasure of visiting the beautiful city of Vienna to join delegates from 28 countries at the Future of Cash Conference. On the one brief occasion that I was able to leave the conference venue and take a quick look around, I noticed an interesting thing – the shops and cafes were all able to take cashless payments, including contactless, but most people were paying with cash. This made me reflect on the myth commonly promoted by the companies who promote cashless payments, that people will choose cashless payment when available and only carry cash for those times when cash is all that is accepted. That certainly didn’t seem to be the case here, and it isn’t unique to Austria either: research carried out this year by Cardtronics in the USA showed that contrary to what cashless payment providers would have us believe, banknotes are preferred by the majority of surveyed people, with 91% using banknotes alongside other instruments. In addition, 61% of participants declared that they would be upset if a retailer refused to accept cash, even if they did not necessarily plan on paying with it. This finding indicates that US consumers, like those I observed in Austria, attach great importance to their freedom of choice between digital and physical money.
Cash is growing strongly
This discrepancy between stories told by the cashless payment lobbyists as they promote their own agenda and the will of the general population for whom cash remains a popular payment mechanism was a reoccurring theme of the Future of Cash conference. In these times of political and economic uncertainty the demand of cash is growing strongly; it is still the most widely used payment mechanism in the UK with cash in circulation growing by 10% in 2016, while in the USA growth is 7.5%, in the Eurozone 6% (Euro cash in circulation has quadrupled since the Euro was first circulated in 2002, with 20.7bn notes in circulation at the end of August 2017). Perhaps that’s not surprising – cash is the only universally accepted payment instrument. In emergency situations, cash is the only payment method that people can rely on, as we saw following the devastation left behind by hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico recently, where electronic payments are unavailable due to electricity shortages. Victims can thus only rely on paper money to access essential goods including food, medicine and fuel.
Innovation is shaping the future of cash
Those who view cash as being an old fashioned means of payment would have been surprised at the innovation and technology on display at the conference, from advanced cash automation services and security solutions to improve efficiency and drive down the cost of the cash cycle to innovative payment solutions like Barzahlen, a German success story similar to Amazon Pay which allows customers to shop online but pay with cash. By using cash, Barzahlen is the only online payment system which is available for every German; 68% of Germans over 18 years do not own a credit card2 and 51% do not use online banking3. In a world which is increasingly online and connected via smartphones but where 38% do not have a bank account (and many more have only basic banking arrangements) this seems to me like a business model with universal appeal.
What about the stories we hear of countries “going cashless”?
On the evidence I saw at the conference, this is far from the truth. Norway is commonly perceived as being a country where cash is in decline, but the presentation from the Bank of Norway was full of praise for cash as a payment method, emphasising its resilience and the need to always keep it available to the public despite the fact that alternative payment methods are available – it’s all about freedom of choice, and a world without cash would be a world with not enough customer choice and too much power in the hands of commercial companies.
What else did I learn at the Future of Cash conference?
The overwhelming consensus was that in reality cash is not going to die out anytime soon, despite what you might read in the news. Even MasterCard acknowledges that cash still accounts for 85% of all global transactions5. Independent research carried out in the UK, US and Australia for Glory, a global leader in cash technology solutions, finds that consumers continue to favour cash as a means of payment and 74% of those questioned believe there will always be a role for cash6. Cash is resilient: 9 out of 10 global consumers use cash on a daily, weekly or monthly basis6. Cash is secure: 84% have greater trust in security of cash than any other payment type6. Cash is convenient: 84% of consumers use cash to pay for everyday purchases of £50 or less6. Cash gives comfort: 86% of consumers feel comfortable using cash, a significantly higher volume than many electronic payment options6. The “war on cash” is driven by cashless payment providers and governments, not consumers. Consumers more than anything want freedom of choice and do not want this choice to be taken away from them by commercially driven organisations who do not have their best interests at heart.
So goodnight, Vienna – I’ll be back to visit soon and maybe next time I’ll have more time to see the sights and enjoy a coffee and cake at one of their excellent cafes. Of course, I’ll be paying in cash: the universally accepted means of payment that represents inclusivity, trust, security and convenience to people all over the world.
Written by Martin Redhead, Market Analysis Manager at De La Rue.
- Deutsche Bundesbank 2015
- Bundesverband Deutscher Banken 2014.
- “Measuring progress toward a cashless society”, Hugh Thomas - MasterCard Advisors
- Glory survey of UK, US and Australian consumers 2017