Japan is a country of contradictions, where modern innovations co-exist with ancient traditions, and while cash today is a high-tech product, cash withdrawal services typically fall into the latter category. This is set to change, with the nation’s banks rethinking their processes in a bid to modernise and streamline.
When customers wanted to withdraw or transfer cash in-branch, they would typically go to a bank teller, who would handle the full transaction, including counting out and handing over cash. In late December, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking—one of Japan’s megabanks—announced tellers would shift to an advisory role, no longer handling notes, but instead printing QR codes for customers to scan at ATMs to withdraw or deposit cash. Personal support will still be offered for customers who struggle with the QR code system.
Mizuho Bank—another of the megabanks—is also looking to streamline cash services. While its employees will continue to handle cash transactions, it is installing tablet computers for customers to request transactions. This will replace the previous system of filling in papers by hand and stamping them with a hanko seal, commonly used in Japan in place of signatures.
The changes should free up staff to offer financial planning advice, and make withdrawing cash a smoother process. This is particularly significant in a country where 84 percent of small transactions are conducted in cash. For payments between 10,000 and 50,000 yen (up to $480/€396) nearly half of households still use cash, with electronic payments making up just 3.4 percent of transactions.
While Prime Minister Suga is set to continue the drive towards a less cash-fuelled economy set in motion by his predecessor, Abe, there is resistance from retailers—who do not appreciate the associated costs of cashless transactions—and consumers, who feel cashless payments are inconvenient when compared to the immediacy and simplicity of cash. Security is also an issue, with high-profile examples such as Seven-Eleven’s mobile pay hack in 2019 denting confidence in the safety of electronic payments.
In Japan—a country renowned for innovative technology and cutting-edge industries—cash remains a modern and universal payment solution for purchases large and small, loved by customers and businesses alike.