No Cashless No Problem

Mar 20, 2024

No cashless? No problem! A network outage at McDonald’s cut off outlets across Asia-Pacific just a day before major British supermarket Sainsbury’s was struck by an IT issue that left it unable to process contactless payments. Fortunately, cash was there to save the day.

Last Friday, TIME reported blank order screens and apps down at McDonald’s stores in countries including Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan, noting that some were taking cash and writing orders down on paper to allow services to continue. A public statement revealed the ‘global system outage’ was caused ‘by a third-party provider during a configuration change.’

The following day, problems with an overnight software update left Brits unable to make contactless payments or fulfil most online grocery deliveries. Argos—a catalogue retailer owned by Sainsbury’s—experienced related issues. The advice given by local media was: if you’re heading to Sainsbury’s today, take cash. While some chip and PIN card payments were still working, MailOnline reported long queues for ATMs, with many running out of banknotes due to the sudden demand.

James Bore, who runs a tech and security consultancy, told MailOnline that ‘the technology involved in [payment] systems has only grown more fragile and complex over the years’ with companies often lacking incentives to upgrade or rebuild them, making outages increasingly likely. He added that a cashless society would be less resilient and secure for lacking the option to use cash when cashless systems fail.

Moving to a cashless society means moving to a single system to manage all payments. Ignoring issues around privacy and control, any failures in the system would have far more potential to be catastrophic, not to mention, without a solid design, dependencies on energy and connectivity could easily be introduced.
"James Bore, Managing Director, Bores Group Ltd
Last Updated: Mar 20, 2024