Cash Matters in Jamaica

Oct 26, 2023


As Jamaica improves the reliability and availability of cashless payments, cash remains essential to supporting choice for individuals, and stability for businesses. Writing for the Jamaica Gleaner, Dr Garth A. Rattray shares his experience of why cash matters on ‘the Rock’.

As a medical doctor with a family practice, Rattray speaks of his own experience as a business owner, but also from the personal perspectives of those passing through his office. On the business side, reliability is his concern with any move to a cashless society, saying the point of sale (POS) machine they provide is prone to malfunctioning.

When it does not matter to a bank that its clients are frequently and repeatedly without the use of their POS machines for many months, as has been the case with our office, digital transactions are not possible.
"Dr Garth A. Rattray

Cash, which is not reliant on internet, electricity, nor permission from any third party, can be used by anyone, anywhere and at any time. As such, it is vital to ensure full continuity of transactions for businesses, and for customers to be sure they can make an essential purchase should they lose a card or forget a password, or in cases of cashless infrastructure failing.

Cashless options also require a bank account—which many Jamaicans do not possess—and some degree of digital literacy, which can be a barrier to people throughout a population, including the very young and very old. Rattray recalls ‘the sad story of one of my elderly patients’ who once held a high government post with considerable responsibilities. Finding ATMs and digital finance systems inaccessible, ‘he asked for help on several occasions but was literally led to the ATM each time.’ Rattray believes the obstacles placed between him and his finances by ‘the callous bank’ contributed to clinical depression, which the patient struggled with for the rest of his life.

While it is clearly important to improve levels of digital literacy and provide more extensive and compassionate support to help more people access cashless payments, there is also the matter of choice. Rattray points out people have concerns about a society in which every transaction would be subject to third party scrutiny from the banking and fintech sectors, and governments. To ensure people are empowered to make the best payment decision for them on a transaction-by-transaction basis, it is critical that both cash and cashless options are accessible and usable.

A 2022 report from the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) found that Jamaicans prefer cash for both spending and receiving payments, with more than two-thirds of the adult population receiving their wages in cash. CAPRI attributed the preference to fears of economic instability, given a history of bank failures and inflation-related issues. The unreliability of infrastructure needed for cashless payments was also highlighted.

Our very undependable internet services and unreliable digital platforms that the banks provide can lock you out or leave you wondering where you are, stuck in the digital universe.
"Dr Garth A. Rattray

While some aspects of broadening payment choice in Jamaica are complex and require considerable investment—such as teaching digital literacy and strengthening digital infrastructure—one pillar of it is simple: keep cash, to ensure everyone can pay in the way that’s right for them, in a private manner, and in the absence of electricity or internet.

Last Updated: Oct 26, 2023