Increasingly I feel that cash – the tangible coins and notes we hold in our hands – is on its way out. I use a mixture of both cash and card. Using my debit card is much more convenient, especially when it’s just tap and go. Using cash, however, makes me think more about what I’m buying, do I want to spend my money on this service, have I got enough bank notes or coins on me to purchase this product? Less handy but it does also help me feel more in control of my spending.
During the pandemic, there were fears that cash spread the virus. Yes, coins have been touched by other people, but so has the supermarket trolley and basket, and all the groceries in the supermarket you’re selecting from. And if you’re buying a cup of tea and cake in a cafe, how do you know the food hasn’t been touched by dirty hands?
Regardless, cash was seen as ‘dirty’ and there became an emphasis on using other means. Now some customers rely solely on their credit card or smartphone and there have been some reports of certain businesses not even allowing the traditional means of payment.
I went to a burger restaurant in Newbury this summer. After eating my burger I was surprised to hear they didn’t take cash. After paying and leaving the premises, it occurred to me how I always forget to leave a tip when paying by card.
There were also reports of an individual branch of Starbucks going cashless – and tweets from customers saying they will boycott the store.
On the other hand, I went to get my hair cut recently and had to pay by cash as their card reader failed. What will happen when technology fails in the cashless venues such as that particular Starbucks branch or that burger restaurant? Will it be a case of no choice, no custom?
There are people who rely on cash and these people tend to be older or on low incomes.
According to Age Concern Scotland: “Many older people would be lost without cash, which allows them to confidently and safely budget, spend and feel in control of their finances.
“As the cost of living rises, it is more important than ever that older people can access their money in cash form for free whenever they need to.
“This is particularly important for people on low and fixed incomes, as well as the hundreds of thousands of over 60s in Scotland who do not have access to the internet.”
It could also be said that a cashless society is discriminatory as some people, such as homeless individuals and financial abuse victims, ‘also lack access to the banking system or technological tools needed to fully participate in a cashless economy’ (Huffington Post). Going cashless ‘would essentially allow retailers and restaurants to discriminate against segments of the population by upcharging or denying service.’
There are those who make comments on social media about ‘luddities’ who should ‘get with the times’ and how ‘it’s progress’ (why do some people insist we blindly follow ‘progress’?). But why force people to do something they would prefer not to? Or maybe not even have the means of doing? For centuries we’ve had cash, and for decades the combination of cash and card have worked well, why not continue this, albeit with an increase in digital choices of paying?
Freedom of choice… is it such a bad thing really?
If we want to live in a dystopian society, cashless is certainly the way to go. Conspiracies abound on the internet of the ‘Great Reset’ which focuses on the ‘elite’s supposed wish to control the 99 per cent of us and a cashless society is part of this supposed vision. Hopefully this conspiracy is just that, a conspiracy, and not a grim prediction of the future. But even the supposed ‘great reset’ aside, cash does give us more power over our lives.
Even if we have benign politicians now, if in the future we had leaders who were sociopaths, the less control we have, the better for them. A cashless society would give more control to banks. How easy it would be for the state to freeze bank accounts for whatever reason (and no cash would mean no other option for the individual) or record all our transactions allowing no privacy (and maybe using it to control us even more). Financial surveillance ‘can be used to censor and restrict the freedoms of people who express dissenting opinions against the state’ (Huffington Post).
Already one financial organisation, Paypal, has closed the accounts of various organisations including one called the Free Speech Union.
I worry that the choice is gradually being taken away from us – bank branches and ATMs have been closing steadily in Britain. Two thirds of the bank network have closed over the last 30 years. And, of course, if the number of businesses which choose not to serve cash customers increase, it is the start of a slippery slope. Needless to say, it will be the more vulnerable of us who will suffer the most.
In Britain, we now have a new King which means the notes and coins will have to change their appearance and replace the Queen with the new King. It’s a new era for money but I hope the choice will remain.
Perhaps I sound like a luddite but I’m actually pro-card, pro-internet and pro-other means of buying products and services. However, more than that, I’m pro-choice.