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Do we really want to go cashless?

By Mal Fletcher - posted Monday, 10 October 2016

Is cash on its last legs? Are we on an irreversible and irresistible march toward a fully cashless society?

According to a new study, 44 percent of British people say that they would stop using cash altogether if cards were accepted everywhere.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given their digital engagement almost from birth, 62 percent of those aged 25-34 say that they would pay only by card if they could.


The study was conducted by MasterCard and it comes on the back of an announcement from The UK Cards Association that contactless payments grew in this country by 10 percent in January. For the first time, they hit the £2 billion mark in July, up from £1.5 billion in March.

According to the Association, contactless options are driving the growth in card-based payments.

Although cashlessness is in some respects a very attractive option, offering faster transactions and less time-wasting at teller machines, we might want to pause for reflection before embracing a world without hard currencies.

A fully cashless society would arguably boost debt, because by removing the substantiality of physical money, we would further divorce spending from forethought.

Even the most financially careful among us will surely admit to the impact of ubiquitous modern marketing and the temptation toward impulse buying on our spending patterns.

A wad of cash grows less weighty as we spend, which means we have a ready reminder of our liquidity. A credit or debit card does not change weight as we use it, making it easier for us to forget ourselves and cast off restraint.


Binary currencies such as Bitcoin - or subcutaneous payment chips, which some now advocate as a serious alternative to cash - take this one step further. They remove entirely any physical contact with our money.

Removing physicality and weight further encourages people to spend without forethought, raising the prospect of higher personal debt. The growing number of debt-relief charities, not to mention payday loan companies, attests to the fact this is already a problem.

Some proponents of cashlessness argue that using cash increases the likelihood of theft and fraud. In fact, reverting to purely digital transactions makes it easier for fraudsters to hijack valuable pin-codes and other personal information.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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