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Is Cash Still King?

Is cash soon to suffer the fate of the dinosaurs? There is no denying that an increasingly large number of goods and services are moving onto digital platforms that do not accept cash. This past year, due to the pandemic, and subsequently, the inundation of new online and mobile payment apps, has put a spotlight on the notion of an eventual cashless economy. In fact, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee Task Force on Financial Technology held a hearing this past January reviewing the rise of mobile payments and posing the question, “Is cash still king?”

As COVID-19 continues to impact businesses across the country, many business owners are looking for cashless options for monetary transactions like electronic and credit card payments. There has been a huge shift to online and even phone e-commerce transactions during the pandemic. A recent Federal Reserve survey revealed that cash, especially over the past two years, has had a major decrease, with cash as a percentage of the average consumer’s total payments declining from 40 percent in 2009 to 30 percent in 2019.

Interestingly, however, according to the Fed, consumers were holding more cash post pandemic. In October 2019, 43 percent of consumers has less than $25 in their wallets, compared to over 50 percent holding more than $100 in April/May 2020. This increase was most likely due to the round of stimulus payments and because there were fewer places to spend cash during the pandemic.

Cashless payments have definitely seen a surge during the pandemic, according to a new report from financial technology company Square, and it seems doubtful there will be a reversal of this trend. Square’s small business owners cited a 23 percent increase over the past year, with online spending mostly on entertainment, retail, charities, education and beauty care. According to a report from Statistica, released this past February, $130 billion is expected to be digitally spent between now and 2023, with a significant increase in mobile payments.

Anticipating sweeping technological disruption in the decade ahead, as we increasingly digitize every aspect of our day-to-day lives, from grocery shopping to taxi fares, Global Data, a leading data and analytics company, forecasts the following countries as the most likely be the leaders in moving towards a truly cashless society in the near future:

Finland

Finland ranks second to Ireland in terms of frequency of use of cards, fifth in e-commerce spending as a percentage of their gross domestic product (GDP), third in internet penetration and second in smartphone penetration.

With a population of only 5.5 million, cash in Finland, in both rural and urban areas, is increasingly irrelevant.

Sweden

Sweden’s government has very aggressive policies to rid the nation of cash. Due to these policies and increasingly higher internet banking penetration and the frequency of use of credit /debit cards, the nation is poised to be the first truly cashless society by 2023.

China

Over the last decade, China has become a serious contender to be the next dominant superpower. One area of extreme development is the rapid adoption of mobile payments. One of the most popular phone payment methods is QR code scanning. This method has been successfully adopted by both urban and rural areas. China has a leading position in e-commerce, with spending to account for 11.6 percent of its GDP by 2022.

South Korea

South Korea is considered the cashless champion of Asia, with most of the cashless infrastructure in place nationwide. With approximately 6 percent of the country’s GDP being e-commerce spending and more than 100 transactions on average per card every year, South Korea is well on its way to becoming a cashless country in the next couple of years.

United Kingdom

The UK, and specifically London, has geared up its finance technology, especially the digitization of money. The UK ranks second globally for e-commerce as a percentage of GDP. The British have become very comfortable using their phones or debit/credit cards to pay for just about everything. At this rate, the UK is expected to be predominantly a cashless society by the mid-2020s.

Australia

Australia is seriously gearing up to digitize most of its economy by 2022. It’s expected that by then most of the population will have at least one smartphone, and internet banking penetration will reach almost 70 percent of Australians.

While there is a global move towards a cashless society, most economists believe that the United States won’t follow suit anytime soon. Cash remains the most popular method of payment for Americans for transactions under $25. Cash will persist in the U.S. for the elderly, those in remote areas, and most significantly, the un-banked.

Although the growth in online and app-based goods and services significantly benefits consumers with lower costs and greater convenience, people cannot access those savings without access to low cost or free digital payment options. Currently, one in 15 households in the U.S. are un-banked, don’t have access to a bank account or debit or credit card. Without this access, these consumers often have no way to make digital payments.

Rather than a cashless society being around the corner for the U.S., the demand for cash remains strong, especially for low dollar notes. So, for now, cash is still king in the U.S.!

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