Keeping Cash Ensures the Price of Progress isn’t Exclusion

May 9, 2024

When a business or service goes cashless, it sends a clear message of exclusion to certain groups. Changing nothing for people who prefer card or mobile payments, it closes the door on those who choose cash for budgeting or privacy reasons, and those who depend on it, such as the very young or old, people without bank accounts and those who do not find technology accessible.

A recent example of this phenomenon comes from The Times, which details a person’s year-long struggle against a parking fine arising from them not owning a smartphone and having a health condition that went unacknowledged by the cashless car park’s management.

The story—as told to Times consumer journalist Katherine Denham—goes that the person parked near Manchester Piccadilly station to catch a train and discovered the car park was cashless, requiring a smartphone app to pay. As they did not own one, they asked a passer-by for directions to another car park and moved their car, and were subsequently fined £100 ($126) for non-payment. They explained to UK Car Park Management (CPM) that they have multiple sclerosis, meaning they move slower than other people, and had only been in the car park for around fifteen minutes while they found an alternative, but their appeal was rejected and the fine increased to £170. CPM only agreed to drop the charge after Denham got in touch with them while preparing her article.

More work is needed to make technology accessible, but even if a time could be imagined when everyone has ready access to cashless payments and smartphones, issues remain that can only be addressed with cash, such as freedom of choice and resilience.

There are countless examples of cashless payment services being unavailable for sustained periods of time, with a recent one seeing McDonald’s outlets across Asia Pacific and beyond turning to cash so they could keep serving customers. Should a nation’s infrastructure fail entirely—due to a natural disaster or cyberattack—cash would be the only way to buy essentials such as food, fuel and shelter, with just such a scenario seeing cash added to a list of survival necessities in flood-hit central China.

Choice also matters, as does retaining competition within the payments landscape. Keeping cash provides a fee-free, private way to transact that anyone can choose at any time. Without it, cashless providers would be less incentivised to offer competitive options and people would be excluded from the economy if they did not meet providers’ service criteria.

Fortunately, cash does exist, and people have a variety of motives to insist banks, businesses and governments continue to support it. Designed with inclusion in mind, cash is accessible to all, with no credit checks, age requirements or other limitations. The physical nature of banknotes and coins also incorporates features that make them easily distinguishable, supporting financial freedom for all, including people with visual impairments or learning disabilities.

Read more about this particular joy of cash here.

Last Updated: May 9, 2024