Editorials

What if we stopped using cash?

4 October 2021

By Josh P

With the advent of smartphones, many people have slowly begun to move away from cash payments instead of opting to use services like Apple Pay and Google Pay. While these services are convenient for many, the removal of cash payments can impact certain groups.

For many people, the pandemic has been the perfect incentive to move away from cash payments. With concerns around the transmission of the virus through contact, switching to the use of contactless payments has served as an effective means of countering these concerns.

I know that I personally have shifted almost entirely from using physical currency, and now almost always make use of contactless payments.

For people like myself, the removal of physical cash would cause no problems. But there are groups who could really suffer as a result of a full switch.

One of the most obvious groups who could be impacted by a full removal of cash payments would be the elderly. In 2020, only 53% of people in the 65+ age group owned a mobile phone. This is a significantly low number in contrast to the 98% in the 16-24 age group.

This disparity shows that although for many people contactless payment apps are easily accessible, this isn’t the case for all of society.

Another potential issue with declining cash payments is that people may be unable to access necessities. In a situation where you are desperately in need of essentials such as food or medicine if you only have access to cash and it isn’t an accepted method of payment, you would be in trouble.

In a poll conducted by Which?, it was found that almost one in five people had been unable to buy an item using cash between the months of April to July. This is a relatively large number of people and highlights how catastrophic the erasing of cash could be.

While platforms such as Google Pay and Apple Pay obviously require a smartphone, excluding part of the population from using them, there are other cash-free options. Credit and debit cards also offer contactless payment, and most people have this option.

According to statistics from 2017, 97% of people in the UK had a day-to-day bank account. With this being such a high percentage of the population, it would certainly be easy for them to acquire and use a credit/debit card for transactions.

Still, however, 3% of the population don’t have access to an account. So, a full removal of cash would still cause issues for a good number of people living in the UK.

cash

Despite these issues with a cash-free society, it does make sense. With the number of cash transactions falling by 35% in 2020, it is hard not to recognise that this is the natural pathway for spending.

It almost feels inevitable that, eventually, we will reach the point where completing transactions using physical money becomes obsolete.

While there are clear arguments against a cashless society, perhaps there is no stopping it.

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