Cash is Resilient

Dec 1, 2023

Cash doesn’t crash. It enables payments offline, anytime, anywhere and by anyone. Today, we explore occasions when its resilience proved essential to people needing goods and services during power or network outages that left cashless payments unusable.

While brief network outages occur every day and are often a minor inconvenience, they can be widespread and lengthy enough to cause serious disruption. A recent example affected payment processing company Moneris, knocking out card transactions across large swathes of Canada. Locals rapidly took to Reddit to advise people to bring cash when heading out, since businesses had switched to cash-only to enable business to continue uninterrupted.

Shortly after, businesses across Uruguay lost the ability to process card payments due to a network outage, and Woolworths stores across Australia went cash-only as internet connection problems meant they could not accept cashless options. This came one day after Australia and New Zealand Banking Group customers reported being unable to access online banking services, and was followed by further network outages in Australia, Japan and Singapore. Similarly, in late 2022, South Korea’s widely used Kakao platform crashed, causing massive payment disruption. Yee Jae-yeol, a professor at Seoul National University, subsequently observed: ‘a hyper-connected society built on a digital platform can easily collapse.’

While these examples were largely an inconvenience, in an emergency, having cash handy can be the difference between being able to purchase essentials such as food, medicine and shelter, and going without. Flooding across central China in the summer of 2021 plunged over a million people into ‘a digital dark age’, prompting the creation of a ‘survival necessities list’ including canned food, a first aid kit, walkie-talkies and—of course—cash.

Recognising the importance of cash to national stability, the central banks of Finland and Norway recommend households maintain cash holdings for use in emergency situations, such as those experienced in China, or on occasions when cashless payments are unavailable. Experts speaking to the Wall Street Journal advise everyone to keep at least $200—or else around two weeks’ worth of household expenses—in cash in a secure location within their home, to ensure they can make payments to stay safe in an emergency.

Whether a temporary inconvenience, such as the embarrassment of being unable to pay for a basket of shopping, or a more serious inability to make essential purchases in an emergency, total reliance on cashless options cannot be recommended. To ensure choice and competition within the payments landscape, and to support personal autonomy and nationwide economic stability, cash is essential.

But resilience is just one of the joys of cash! Look for us on your social media channel of choice to see our full series and find out more about how cash supports a safe, inclusive and joyful world.

Last Updated: Dec 4, 2023