With the increasing rise of challengers and digital banking, there's been a lot of discussion about the UK's move to ‘cashless society’ status. Bank branch closings and the removal of hundreds of ATMs from all over the country seem to mark cash's demise, and it's time to question what consumers access to cash will look like in the next five years.
The shift in culture seems most obvious in urban areas like London, where shops are moving away from cash to 'card only'. In fact, in June 2018, debit cards overtook cash as the most popular means of payment across the UK. And while it appears that consumers are looking to spend with plastic, a question no one is asking is: if we're moving toward digital only, what do consumers then do with any cash they acquire?
Starling Bank and Monzohave recently made moves to address this particular problem by partnering with retail banking operators to enable customers to deposit cash if necessary. But if we're moving toward a system that relies purely on the technology underpinning it, for ease of use, instant transactions, and financial tracking, what will happen as cash is phased out? Challengers' moves to integrate into the existing banking infrastructure seems to indicate that - contrary to popular belief - cash is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.
In addition, we need to think about consumers in non-urban areas, who may require cash for everyday transactions. According to Natalie Ceeney CBE, Chair of Innovate Finance, as many as 8 million British residents across the country rely on cash on a daily basis, either as a first means of payment or as a fail safe alternative in the face of IT problems with banking infrastructure.
This raises yet another question: if we move to a fully cashless society, what do consumers do in the face of another TSB or Lloyds banking disaster? When TSB's IT systems went down earlier this year, it left thousands of customers without access to their cards, cash, or accounts. And in today's increasingly digital and interconnected ecosystem, it's not if something will go wrong, but when. Banking providers need to enable people to access alternative forms of finance in the event of banking failures, the easiest and most accessible means of which is: fiat currency. The Swedish Central Bank is ahead of the curve here, as it’s now beginning to issue digital currency to avoid complete dependency on brick and mortar banking.
As we continue moving towards a cashless state of being, the banking industry and its regulators need to plan carefully around challenges that may arise. IT outages, lack of access to deposit services, and cash-backed locales are just a few. Making sure the industry isn’t sleepwalking, but proceeding with clear and open eyes will go a long way to ensuring consumer satisfaction and success of the wider financial ecosystem.
A review into the importance of access to physical cash reported part of its findings in December...revealing there are as many as eight million people in Britain who rely on cash and for whom digital substitutes are not appropriate.