On the road to a cashless society

How many times have you paid for something with cash in the past two weeks? It’s a simple question, with a difficult answer as you comb through your memories to figure out if you have even withdrawn cash or not. That is the realisation I came to while writing this piece: Apart from one instance when a card machine wasn’t working properly, I hadn’t used cash in a transaction for a fortnight.

It’s more convenient to use card now, especially with contactless payments and the introductions of Apple and Android Pay requiring less and less effort to remember to withdraw enough cash from the ATM for shopping, or a night out on the town. Access to our bank accounts are at our fingertips with lightning quick speeds for transfers and payments. So, this begs the question, when will the traditional retail till be made redundant?

I ventured to Dundrum over the Christmas period to purchase a coffee machine. Equipped with the monetary seasonal gifts from friends and family, I intended on using cash for the transaction, only to discover this particular retailer did not have access to cash and did not accept cash as a form of payment. Subsequently, seeing as no banks were open to deposit funds to my account, and the lack of any reserves post-Christmas, I had to skip on a brand-new machine.

While unsettled by the ordeal, I could understand the concept backing the policy. Cashless is safer, it’s cleaner, and it’s easier. Without the need of stockpiling quantities of change in the store, and the safe-keeping of daily takings, the shop becomes less of a target by would be criminals. Furthermore, having digitised all spending, a paper trail exists for every single transaction down to the most miniscule amount. Everything is accounted for down to the red cent without any discrepancies in change exchange, with the added benefit of accessing data of customers who have created an account with the store (an almost essential part of being a customer for the savings), exposing a vital asset for marketeers.

On the contrary to this experience, I encountered a problem that many most likely faced when making the venture home to rural Ireland over the holidays. No bar had a card reader. A friend and I joined with a group of friends who ultimately paid for our drinks due to the bar we entered not accepting any card payments. We were flabbergasted after living in the lap of Dublin’s bohemian lifestyle for the past four years. And again, I could see the rationale behind the decision; trust and budget.

At home, there is a greater tendency to use cash over card due to different factors. One is that, there is still a culture that avoids tax by paying employees in cash for some businesses. While highly illegal, it allows small business to avoid foreclosure in some instances. To hide that fact, those employees pay for services in cash to stop prying eyes from adding two and two together. Coupled with card transaction costs, and the ability to hide cash payments having card payment as an option just isn’t viable for most.

For now, it seems that the remnants of the cash we use is safe. Surprisingly, 63% of transactions in Ireland are still cash based. There is still some attachment to the tangibility of cash and maintaining the ability to regulate your spend easily, and hide what needs to be hidden.