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What would a “cashless” society be like?

Money.* From its earliest form circa 9000BC – i.e. cows and wheat – all the way through to the modern-day bitcoin, money and monetary transactions have taken on a variety of different forms throughout the ages (here’s a really cool infographic for the history buffs in the crowd!). It appears that now, however, it might just be taking one of it’s most society-altering turns yet – by becoming entirely cashless! 

What do we mean by a “cashless” society?

Quite simply, a cashless society is one where we no longer make purchases using tangible coins and notes. Instead, all transactions are carried out electronically, from the more traditional bank transfer through to debit and credit card transactions (including chip and pin and contactless), apps such as ApplePay, and so on.

Is the UK a cashless society?

Almost! In fact, we’re currently the third most cashless society in the world, following Canada in second place, and Sweden, who are currently topping the leaderboard. 

And it’s not been a slow process; just a decade ago, 63% transactions in the UK were made with cash, but today, we only use cash for 34%  transactions. So probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that the UK is predicted to no longer be using coins and banknotes within the next 15 years.

So if we were to fast forward to our anticipated cashless society of 2034-ish, what could we expect to find?

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The good stuff

Less chance of theft

With people no longer carrying cash around with them and shop/restaurant tills/safes and banks no longer containing physical cash, the chances of physical robberies taking place will be significantly lower. Of course, you could argue that people will still be carrying their debit and credit cards around, but with banks now having websites and apps close to hand, cards can be cancelled in mere seconds. 

Reduction in cash-based criminal activity

Most criminal transactions – such as the buying and selling of illegal drugs – are completed using cash, as this means there’s no electronic trail that can be traced back. So with physical cash-in-hand opportunities unavailable and the increased monitoring of online transactional activity, these kinds of crimes are less likely to take place in the future as they’ll be significantly more difficult to carry out undetected.

More time-efficient processes

Handling paper money, as well as storing and depositing it, is a lot more time consuming than many people realise. As with many of the other increasingly digital processes going on in the world, handling money electronically is a significant time-saver. For example, cashless transactions in shops will eventually mean we have less queues to deal with, as shoppers won’t have to spend time counting out cash and coins to make their purchases. 

Easier to monitor your income and spending 

With the multitude of banking apps now available – and most of them incorporating budgeting tools – it’s already easier than ever to monitor your incomings and outgoings. And the more cashless we become as a society, the easier this will be (though of course it’s worth bearing in mind that it might end up being too easy to just keep spending when we’re not seeing cash physically leave our hands)!

Physical health

As strange as this may sound, living in a cashless society may make us physically healthier, too! Think about it; how many different pairs of hands will your cash and coins have been held in before they reached yours? Probably thousands! One study found that there can be as many as 19 different kinds of bacteria living on cash, among other nasties. So with no cash being passed around, it’s likely that our cashless society of the future is likely to be a healthier one as well!

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The potential downsides…

Lack of privacy

Although the monitoring of electronic transactions is helpful for avoiding criminal activity, it’s not so great when you think that your payment information could turn up in unpredictable ways. Just a couple of years ago, Google planned to track billions of credit and debit card sales to compare online ad clicks with money spent offline!  It also puts us at greater risk of identity theft and information loss. Being able to use physical cash grants you much greater anonymity, so this opportunity will be lost in a cashless society.

Beware the hackers

Remember when we were talking about physical robberies earlier? Although this may not be such a problem anymore in our cashless society of the future, one smart hacker gaining access to your online bank account could leave you entirely penniless in mere seconds. And with no physical cash to hand to use as back-up, this could leave you in a debilitating situation. 

Loss of control

A lot of people currently use cash as a means of having control over their finances, and some receive it as payment for odd jobs when they want to make extra money. A cashless society would mean relinquishing that control to technology – which, for those unfamiliar with technology, would be potentially distressing. These people may also find themselves at greater risk of financial abuse, for example if  family members take control of their accounts.

Technical problems

Picture the scenario: You want to make extra money by taking part in a market research study, and when it comes to getting paid, the researcher’s banking app fails on them. Frustrating or what? Despite technology making new advancements by the day, there are always going to be times when it fails us. It hasn’t happened to us yet – fingers crossed! But power cuts, slow load speeds and timeouts, and other technical failures can leave us temporarily penniless or unable to complete transactions, which could lead to all sorts of problems.

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Will we be ready?

Despite the many advantages of living in a cashless society, it looks like we probably won’t be ready for it in fifteen years’ time. According to one report, nearly half of Britain – that is, 25 million people – would struggle without access to cash, and for some, they feel it would be impossible to function. 

In which case, it might be a good idea for us to look to Sweden for guidance. The apparent model for a modern cashless society, it’s not uncommon to see signs that say “No cash accepted” in Swedish shops, with some banks no longer handle cash at all and cash payments making up only 15% of their retail sales. What’s more, 59% of consumer transactions are completed through non-cash methods, and 47% of Swedish citizens are aware of the types of mobile payment services available to them.

Conclusion:

However money turns out in the future, we’re glad to say that there will always be opportunities for you to get involved in our market research projects if you want to make extra money! If you’d like to take part, simply visit the current projects page on our website and get in touch!

*Money money money… must be funny… come on, you were thinking it, too!

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