Is cash finally dying?
It’s a question that does the rounds every few months: is cash finally dying out? It usually comes on the back of an industry report that payments by cards and mobile devices have grown yet again. The proponents claim this is another sign cash is on its last legs.
And yet cash is still here. Moreover, it shouldn’t go away anytime soon. Certainly not in my lifetime.
So why is it hanging on?
Cash has many benefits connected to inclusion, accessibility, resilience and security that digital money doesn’t. These are usually ignored or not understood by the cashless society proponents.
Physical money is not dependent upon possessing a “secondary carrier technology” (e.g. a mobile phone or payment card). These technologies often carry additional costs, from contract subscriptions to deposits, that make them unavailable to those on lower incomes or other vulnerabilities. Cash has no such demands.
The use of cash is not dependent upon owning or the physical ability to use a secondary carrier technology.
Physical cash is not affected by the loss of services from third parties over which the individual has no control. Cash still works in areas of poor connectivity, when your phone’s battery is dead or your smartwatch has been stolen.
Cash is not at risk of a third party being hacked. Notes and coins are fungible tokens that, if lost, represent no further risk to the owner.
In Japan at least, I’ve noticed no significant time saving using digital payment versus physical money. Moreover, payment by cash comes with social etiquette with an intrinsic value.
While I’m not against cashless solutions, moving to a purely cashless society is not without problems. It creates issues that could become divisive and reduce accessibility to essential services and goods.
We should advance cashless technologies and invest in doing so. However, we should also check that our actions don’t accidentally create an isolated underbelly in our society.