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Are reports on the death of cash fake news?

calendar iconNov 14, 2019

Finance editor for The Economist, Helen Joyce, explores the alleged death of cash in a Futurewatch radio episode, released on November 4th, 2019.

Joyce challenges reports of cash as a payment that's dying, pointing out how "depending on where you are in the world, cash is still showing strong vital signs". The global phenomenon of cashless payments rising so quickly are bringing into question what it means to commit to convenience without considering the consequences of a cashless world.

Within the episode, Joyce interviews Asia economics editor for The Economist, Simon Rabinovitch, a financial expert and technologist, David Birch, and a post-doctoral academic at SSE, Claire Ingram Bogusz. Taking their views into account, Joyce expects that the growth of non-cash payments - particularly, mobile - will continue to offer a platform for business model and FinTech innovation. Still, she doesn't believe that mean the death of cash.

"It’s clear that there are still too many people who rely on cash for us to declare its death."
"Helen JoyceFinance editor at The Economist

Convenience is great, but we cannot give up our privacy rights

Birch says there's demand for an evolving payment landscape that syncs most payment forms through supercomputers behind user-friendly interfaces, but a reliable payments landscape must include cash. That's because cash is necessary for avoiding the "dystopian connotations" that follow a "monoculture of digital payments" falling into the wrong hands.

For example, the current protests taking place in Hong Kong have seen both protestors and bystanders choosing to pay with cash to protect themselves from police raids. Critical for independence, cash is the unsung hero of payments, safeguarding privacy and empowering the public.

"If we allow cashlessness to happen then we have some problems because it marginalizes groups. We should be designing the cashless world that we want. Rather than let the technologists play with it and we have to choose between their menu of offerings."
"David Birchfinancial expert and technologist

Non-cash options are great, but we cannot refuse cash

More and more FinTech experts are speaking up for cash even though they themselves love using non-cash payments. For the health of the public and the economy, a harmony of both cash and cashless payments is a must. Banning cash is a problem.

In China, regulators are having to pay visits to cash-refusing merchants to remind them that refusing legal tender is illegal. Heartbreaking news of an elderly man hoping to buy a few grapes with cash at a cashless checkout reminded the world just how unfair it is to expect everyone to get onboard with the digital way of life.

In Sweden, where 3 in 4 payments are cashless, 7 in 10 people are not ready to see cash disappear. In the last couple years, governments have obligated bank branches to handle cash in a bid to increase financial inclusion and the public has also been advised to stock up on cash in case of emergencies.

As the most reliable and democratic payment form, it is perhaps not so surprising that support for cash is growing in response to the many cashless campaigns declaring that cash is dead (fake news), after all, cash is a public good.

Listen to episode here

Last Updated: Jan 3, 2020

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