Why Cashless Can Never Replace Cash

calendar iconOct 4, 2021


In light of a recent decline in cash usage across the UK, an article in The Guardian explores a scenario in which cash is no longer available, and payment choice has been severely limited.

In her article, Emma Beddington, a freelance writer for The Guardian, acknowledges the appeal of cashless options—particularly in a time of reduced social contact—before sounding a note of caution concerning all that society stands to lose should cash be marginalised or even lost in the payment mix.

Cash still matters: nothing else currently offers all the attributes of notes and coins.
"Emma Beddington, The Guardian

Beddington cites the Cash Rebellion movement in largely-cashless Sweden, who warn of the risks to cybersecurity and personal freedom presented by the loss of cash. Should a country’s network infrastructure fail—whether due to a natural disaster, a cyber attack, or a simple mistake during updates or maintenance—cashless payments can abruptly become unusable, with the Central China floods being a recent example.

There’s also the tangibility of cash, and the reassurance it provides. By its very physical nature, cash is immune to glitches or hacks. This also gives it another advantage: when it comes to budgeting, a simple visual check is all it takes to see how much money you have left for the week, and cash can be physically divided into different pots (literal pots, if you want) to ensure there’s enough money to cover essentials, and it’s immediately clear how much is left for luxuries.

Your bank is not infallible digitally. Cash is the ultimate backstop, a bulwark against lots of things.
"Gareth Shaw, Head of Money, Which?

People often turn to cash in times of crisis, and Beddington observes COVID-19 Britain has been no exception, with the Bank of England reporting banknotes in circulation are up 10 percent since the start of the first lockdown in March 2020. Even if we aren’t spending cash on a daily basis, we still want to keep it around, just in case.

Gareth Shaw, Head of Money at UK consumer rights organisation Which?, reports seeing “a really diverse group of people relying on cash.” From people who find quick-changing digital displays hard to read, and thus struggle with paying by card or phone, to those on lower incomes, right through to young people who don’t yet have bank accounts, and those who simply prefer financial privacy, there are millions of Brits who depend on cash.

Beddington also observes: “You don’t need to be a numismatist to feel the aesthetic appeal of physical money. Cash is deeply evocative, foreign notes and coins especially.” She recalls the pleasure and excitement of withdrawing foreign currency for a trip abroad, and the common hobby of collecting coins—whether historic or representing countries around the world—that transports people across time or space thanks to the unique designs of cash, showcasing the people, places and values of the nation that issued it.

Last Updated: Oct 4, 2021