Cashless payment is becoming more and more common. According to a new report by Reports and Data, the Global Digital Payment Market is forecast to reach $10.07 Trillion by 2026. The move towards cashless payment is being fueled by the worldwide proliferation of technologies such as smartphones and internet access. Couple this with the rising popularity of online shopping, flux of mobile banking apps and the human craving for “convenience” are all responsible for changing the behaviour of consumers and businesses alike, helping to accelerate the shift away from cash and checks toward cashless payments.
Many consumers view credit cards, debit cards, mobile payments and other cashless payment methods as faster and more convenient than paying with cash. Wallets have become digital, freeing us from that heavy load in our pockets or handbags; there’s no need to fumble with bills and coins and no need to reload your wallet at the ATM, which can carry hefty fees of about $5 for each out-of-network transaction. With the option of cashless payment methods, in the UK, only 34% of payments are now made in cash, according to UK Finance, and debit cards overtook cash as the most popular payment method for the first time in 2017. Meanwhile, in Sweden, cash accounts for just two per cent of the value of all transactions and is predicted to account for just half a per cent in 2020!
With such high demand for digital payment it’s not overly shocking that businesses like salad chain sweetgreen and Amazon Go once banned cash purchases, along with a number of small companies sprinkled around the country. However, what is surprising, not every consumer can or wants to use electronic payments and the sole use of cashless payments have generated backlash. So much so, New York City has just become the latest city to ban completely cashless restaurants and stores, joining the states of New Jersey and Massachusetts, as well as the cities of Philadelphia and San Francisco.
Stores who do not accept cash can face financial penalties because cashless stores seemingly discriminate against people with lower incomes, the unbanked, recent immigrants, or those who, for other reasons, may not have access to credit and traditional banking. A recent report from Access to Cash warns that going cashless could mean millions of people are financially excluded and at risk of exploitation. They emphasize the need for banks, governments and FinTech companies to work together to ensure that the most vulnerable, the underbanked and the elderly are protected, and that a transition to a cashless society is as smooth as possible.
So, despite credit and debit cards becoming more popular, new payment methods like mobile wallets enter the scene, an influx of self- checkout terminals and Amazon Go-like services nudging customers to choose cashless payment out of convenience, we’re far from the days of a cashless society in the U.S. After all, cash usage has remained relatively steady in the states since 2003. Pew Research Center revealed that 52% of Americans still use cash to make at least some purchases each week—and that number that has barely changed since 2015. Another report from the Federal Reserve found that paper money continues to beat out digital spending, with 30% of all transactions and more than 50% of sales under $10. And while online shopping is growing, 77% of payments were made in-person.
But, the lean toward cash is declining. Yes, cash continues to be the most used payment method in the U.S., its relative importance is decreasing. The Pew Research Center polled 13,000 adults in 2018 and found a third of Americans made no cash purchases in a typical week, and the share of respondents who said all of their purchases were made with cash fell to 18% last year from 24% in 2015. U.S. Bank found similar trends: In a survey of 2,000 Americans, 50% said they carry cash less than half the time they’re out, and when they do, 80% keep less than $50.
Will the US ever be where Sweden is today? There is no denying that an increasingly large number of goods and services are moving onto digital platforms that do not accept cash. Similarly, providing clients and consumers the option to pay electronically holds many benefits for any sized business such as reduced costs without the need for cash infrastructure, as well as increased efficiency and productivity.
However, we may never see a truly cashless existence but we will continue to see its decline. At the moment, the combination of cash and digital payments acceptance by merchants of all sizes is the ideal offering: It means more convenience, more control and more choice for all consumers.