Virtually Irreplaceable: European Central Bank Strategy Defines Cash as a Vital Payment Method

calendar iconDec 3, 2020


The European Central Bank (ECB) has published a strategy to safeguard the future of cash and ensure it is accessible to all citizens, noting it is the only form of public money that provides ‘autonomy, privacy and social inclusion’.

Banknotes are part of our economy, our identity and our culture—and we at the ECB have an immense responsibility to ensure that people maintain their trust in them.
"Christine LagardePresident of the ECB

The Eurosystem Cash Strategy is built around cash as a vital public service—as explored in the 2019 Cash Matters study ‘Virtually Irreplaceable: Cash as a Public Infrastructure’—and consists of five pillars.

First, it will ensure the availability of euro banknotes and coins to the public at all times by working with national central banks to create a cost-efficient cash cycle that will serve the needs of the EU and international markets. It also confirms that, should a digital euro be issued in future, this will co-exist with physical money.

Second, the Eurosystem will support access to cash services for all citizens and businesses, ensuring credit institutions meet their ‘social responsibility to provide cash services’, including free or minimally-priced cash services. It will also help the banking sector cope with sudden surges in demand for banknotes, guaranteeing cash can function as ‘a fall-back payment instrument in case electronic payments are temporarily unavailable.’

With the newly-published ECB study of payment attitudes confirming cash is still the main way people make retail payments in the EU, the third Eurosystem pillar is making sure cash is accepted everywhere, securing people’s freedom to choose how they pay. Public service providers, traders and other businesses must accept cash payments, with the only exceptions being legal requirements or situations where other payment means have been agreed by all parties.

The fourth pillar is developing innovative, secure banknotes protected by the latest, most effective technologies to make them highly resistant to counterfeiting and straightforward to authenticate. New security features are also being developed for future euro coins. The ECB also commits to selecting designs for cash that ‘Europeans can identify with.’

The Eurosystem’s fifth and final pillar is keeping banknotes safe and sustainable, developing the most efficient and environmentally-friendly methods of producing new notes, ultimately making Europe’s cash as green as possible.

Cash transactions respect our fundamental right to have our privacy, data and identity protected in financial matters.
"ECB, The Role of Cash

This development follows an ECB review of the role of cash as the EU’s dominant payment method, and an essential component of social inclusion. This notes that cash ensures freedom, autonomy, and privacy, helps people keep track of expenses and is the most inclusive payment method. It also notes cash transactions are secure—in terms of cybercrime, fraud and counterfeiting—and fast, since notes and coins can be used to settle a payment instantly.

Cash provides payment and savings options for people with limited or no access to digital money, making it crucial for the inclusion of socially vulnerable citizens such as the elderly or lower-income groups.
"ECB, The Role of Cash
Last Updated: Dec 2, 2020