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Are we ready for a cashless society?

In 2017, more payments were made by card than cash for the first time in the UK. In the same year, a global ranking of cashless societies put the UK at third – just behind Canada and Sweden.

For the young and digitally savvy, cashless makes sense. But a 2018 report by Which? found that 25 million Brits would struggle without cash.

We may be inadvertently sliding towards a cashless society – but are we really ready for it? Why would we want to abandon cash? And what can we do to make sure everyone’s included?

What might a cashless country look like?

By ‘cashless country’, we mean one where all payments are made digitally: by debit/credit card, contactless, mobile or online. A country with no physical currency.

In this context, going cashless might not seem like such a big deal. But doing away with notes and coins could actually have massive consequences for much of society – if it’s not handled well


So why get rid of cash?

Crime depends on cash

Criminals use cash because it can’t be traced. All digital payments are tracked in one way or another. Get rid of cash and it’s much harder to move money illegally. And if someone steals your wallet, your cash is gone but you can block your card immediately.

It’s easier to travel cashless

If you’ve got a draw full of leftover foreign currency, you’ll appreciate how much easier travelling cashless can be. And with favourable deals on specialist credit cards and peer to peer services, it can be better value, too.

It’s easier to manage your money

Keeping everything cashless means, you can use money management apps, which can help you track your spending, give you AI assisted money advice and automatically set money aside for savings.

Countries closest to a cashless society

Sweden is a shining example of how a cashless society might work. Cash already accounts for less than 15% of all transactions in the country, and much of Stockholm simply won’t accept physical currency.

They’re projected to become entirely cashless by 2023. And thanks to careful infrastructure planning, it seems to be working. Small traders can use Stockholm-based iZettle to take payments, and there is a task force looking into ensuring older people aren’t locked out of society.

On the other hand, India banned cash overnight in 2016 with disastrous consequences – costing at least 1.5m jobs and 1% of GDP – a cautionary tale of diving in without planning.

Britain is somewhere in the middle. We have better systems in place than India, but could certainly do with a bit more Swedish-style planning.

So far, it seems to be working OK. But there are real risks to eliminating cash altogether without making sure the proper infrastructure’s in place.


There are risks to not having cash as an option.

Connection issues can block payments

Cashless works fine if you’ve got solid phone and internet connections. For much of rural UK, that just isn’t the case. If you’re in a black spot, you may not be able to make payments. And 10% of British households still don’t have internet. That means they can’t access online banking, which could lock them out of economy if there’s no cash.

Older people and those on lower incomes may struggle

Perhaps most importantly, older people, disabled people, and those on lower incomes tend to use cash to manage their money. It’s often an issue of trust as much as habit – although that comes into it too.

A hand holding a mobile phone

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