Should we aim for a cashless society

Maddy Sutherland - Guest Blogger

August 22, 2019

With the likes of contactless payment and even the ability to pay with your watch, the question of whether or not we need cash is debatable.

Our guest blogger Maddy shares her thoughts on if we should aim to become a cashless society.

As we approach the third decade of the millennium, technological innovations are happening all the time and old technologies are dying out.

Many of us have replaced our phones, computers, cameras, alarm clocks, calendars, roadmaps, photo albums, calculators, torches and a multitude of other functional objects in our day-to-day lives with a single device – the smartphone.

And then there’s money. You can now use your smartphones to pay at the till. As Apple Pay and similar services become more routinely accepted by retailers, could physical money be the next obsolete everyday item?

Our debit cards have gone contactless, making it incredibly easy to pay with just a tap of plastic – much simpler than fiddling around with 2p pieces, at any rate.

Speaking of which, the need for coppers is already being called into question. Yet, despite the fact that people have been talking up a cashless society since the 1940s, it hasn’t happened yet.

So, what are the pros and cons of potentially making the leap to cash-free? Let’s take a look.

Not everyone has a smartphone

Some 85% of UK adults owned a smartphone in 2017, according to a report from Deloitte, which means 15% don’t. In order to access services like Paypal and Apple Pay on-the-go, you are almost certainly going to need one. The 15% might be explained, at least in part, because of the expense. Even a basic smartphone with the capability to run these apps is costly.

But ‘physical money’ is expensive too

The cost of money is something that a lot of people don’t think about. The reality of the matter is that it doesn’t just cost money to print money, but there is also an expense in moving it around in heavily-guarded vehicles, as well as in maintaining the numerous ATMs scattered around a populated area.

The new polymer banknotes are said to cost 50% more than their paper predecessors to produce. Okay, perhaps none of this is of direct consequence to the consumer – but these are costs to almost every business that need covering.

Invariably, these costs will drip down to the consumer in the form of higher prices for products and services. Could going cashless reduce these costs to businesses?

Fraud

Some people fear that if we go completely cashless, it could make our funds more vulnerable because of the growth of online fraud and hacking.

If something went wrong digitally – perhaps we temporarily lost access to our bank accounts – without the ability to switch to cash, we’d be entirely without funds while the problem was sorted out.

On the flip side, other people believe a cashless society makes it harder for individuals to avoid taxes – ‘cash in hand’ wouldn’t be an option and so neither would ‘going off the books’.

Privacy

Finally, some argue that a fully electronic-money society equates to an invasion of privacy. Transactions through card payment or mobile payment services are traceable and recorded and require the sharing of personal information between both parties. Sometimes, the argument goes, it is necessary to have some anonymity where transactions are concerned.

All in all, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to going cashless but it seems to me that, even if we are using less cash than ever, people should still have the freedom to choose.

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