Don’t Bank on a Cashless Society

calendar iconNov 23, 2021

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‘A fully cashless society would be inequitable and undependable,’ says Canadian author and columnist Casey Plett in a recent piece for The Globe and Mail that examines the vital importance of cash to a free and fair financial future.

Plett observes that, while many believe cashless societies are an inevitability, accelerated by the pandemic, this is not the case, nor should it be. To begin with, she quotes journalist Charlotte Shane from an article discussing planned changes to the OnlyFans platform, in which Shane lays out the risk posed by a digital-only society to personal agency.

In an increasingly cashless economy, the banking industry exerts a terrifying degree of control over us all.
"Charlotte Shane, The Cut

Aside from the power to steer one’s own finances, Plett also highlights cash is an irreplaceable failsafe. Citing situations such as being out in the country without reception, having a credit card locked for unknown reasons, or simply experiencing internet failure, Plett points out basic necessities such as food, gas or toilet paper could become unobtainable in a world without cash.

A fully cashless society would only increase our reliance on systems that have never proven themselves 100-per-cent reliable.
"Casey Plett, The Globe and Mail

There is also the question of privacy, with people increasingly being obliged to accept ‘tech companies track every piece of ourselves in order to micro-market and sell it back to us.’ With so much personal data routinely collected, there are obvious risks of that information being misused, either by the companies collecting it or third parties obtaining it by legal or illegal means.

Beyond matters of personal choice, there are those for whom cash is not just one option, it is the only option. The Globe and Mail reported in 2019 that three percent of Canada’s population—around one million people—have no bank account, and a further 15 percent—five million more—have no local bank branch, no credit, or are otherwise unable to afford fees or high interest rates linked to products for low-income borrowers. Among these individuals are the vulnerable and homeless, people lacking proper ID and sex workers, all of whom rely on cash to cover their day-to-day needs. Plett notes that many who depend on cash are already socially and economically disadvantaged, and these people would be further marginalised by a phase out of cash.

When a retail institution decides to go cashless, ask yourself: Who’s being told to leave? Who’s being told they don’t matter?
"Casey Plett, The Globe and Mail

Removing cash as a payment option will also harm businesses, Plett points out, due to the ‘hidden costs to all our swiping and tapping.’ Fees required by card companies can take an unwelcome bite out of already narrow profit margins that keep small businesses afloat. These costs, while usually concealed from the customer, will inevitably be passed on to them. As Plett puts it: ‘Literally everyone loses—except the card companies and payment processors, naturally.’

In conclusion, she says ‘cash doesn’t have to be king, but it still needs to be on the board.’ The alternative is to deny basic human rights, remove fail-safes that cover inevitable technology failures, and clear ‘yet another road for privacy violations, all at an increased cost.’

Last Updated: Nov 23, 2021