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Cashing Out: COVID and a Cashless Society

Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, society was already drifting towards a cashless future. Has the global health crisis made this possible future a certainty?

Posted: 17th August 2020 by Finance Monthly
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For many years now, an increasing percentage of consumers have transitioned to using debit cards rather than cash. Many projections state that of all global currency, only 8% of it is physical currency, which shows just how prevalent and important the likes of credit and debit cards are to global economies. 

Credit and debit card use is much more widespread than before, with users citing added convenience and time saving as major reasons, yet in 2020, COVID-19 has provided another reason for both customers and businesses to embrace cashless trading. By walking into essentially any store on the high street, you will likely find signs banning every transaction other than contactless payments, which shows that COVID-19 is accelerating society towards this cashless revolution. 

Since the pandemic, many stores have opted for a cashless policy, whilst cash machine withdrawals have fallen by 55%. Due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and a potential second wave, this trend looks set to continue. Below, Southern Finance's Tom Simpkins explores the pros and cons of a business going cashless during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as what advantages going cashless may have for everyone after COVID-19.

Saving Time and Money

Just as many adhered to the paperless revolution a decade ago, deciding to go completely cashless removes the need for expensive equipment that would have once been considered essential. Shops would have little to no need for tills, nor would the likes of safes be standard when all transactions would be handled electronically.

Deciding to go cashless may save time, money and effort in the long run, especially as it looks like it may be becoming the new standard. After all, the beginning of the UK’s lockdown in March saw the use of physical currency in stores drop by approximately 50%, and with lockdown measures fluctuating, the rest of the country is seeing little reason to return to relying on physical cash.

Deciding to go cashless may save time, money and effort in the long run, especially as it looks like it may be becoming the new standard.

‘Staying ahead of the curve’ is always a wise move, especially if you’re trying to get a one-up over your competition. By embracing the new standard in an ever-growing cashless society, you can adjust to the new challenges that it brings, such as a focus on convenient technology. An example of this would be to invest in contactless payment points, digital tablets, and other equipment that can make life easier for customers and workers in almost any industry, ranging from the restaurant industry to retail.

Increasing Business Efficiency

Cashless transactions aren’t just efficient due to saving time counting out physical currency, it also promotes smoother transactions for businesses in general. By primarily dealing with cashless transactions, businesses will have less stress handling physical currency, such as handling bank deposits or concern over germs. Proof of this latter point was seen in China during the early lockdown efforts, as thousands of banknotes were destroyed from fear of being contaminated.

Certain businesses and industries such as those that specialise in transportation have already seen a boost in efficiency, so much so that it feels like there’s no going back from cashless for them. A prime example of this would be buses, as before COVID-19 there were various pushes to encourage using contactless card payments as opposed to paying in cash, yet now that necessity demands contactless payments this push has become much more important.

As to be expected, cashless transactions are also much more convenient for customers, thanks in no small part to the abundance of digital wallets available. Along with credit and debit cards, most smartphones are capable of being connected to bank accounts and serving as digital cards; the likes of Apple Pay and Google Pay are already immensely popular. By being able to make a payment by placing a phone against a card reader, customers can make everyday transactions quicker than conventional methods, like fishing out a credit card.


Vulnerabilities with Banking Issues

Of course, no system is perfect, and some raise large concerns with a truly cashless society. From a reluctance to adapt to a cashless society to concerns with banking security, going completely cashless requires plenty of willing participants. While we’ll likely never see a day where physical currency is worthless, many are still confident in its staying power, along with the sense of security that physically holding currency provides.

Resistance to a cashless society isn’t new to the COVID-19 crisis, as the Access to Cash Review once called on the government and lawmakers to stop shops offering cashback, especially when the request was made without making a purchase. This continued push has persisted even to 2020, with the government’s budget in March detailing further protection for those that want reliable access to cash. Just as some don’t wish for a cashless society, many still rely on cash and face-to-face banking.

There’s also the age-old problem of disclosing too much information, as many fear that cashless transactions risk their banking information being stolen. Experts in the financial industry are attempting to address this issue, such as fintechs, who strive to assist electronic payments without the use of bank accounts. The truth is that when using cash, you don’t often grant the opportunity to access your banking details, and even the possibility of that happening is enough to put many people off the notion of a cashless society.

Is the Future Cashless?

While arguments can be made both in favour of and against a truly cashless society, COVID=19 has made it clear that many businesses can either thrive from it or need to go cashless to survive. The amount we rely on cashless transactions, as well as how common they become, may depend on how quickly we can handle and eliminate COVID-19, yet it’s becoming likelier by the day that the pandemic's impact will be long-lasting, if not felt forever. 

Whether this extends to being a completely cashless society or not is yet to be seen, but for now it’s clear that during a pandemic and the lockdown going cashless is a safe move, no matter what industry it’s utilised in.

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