/ Money

Are we sleepwalking into a cashless society?

Going fully cashless will leave millions behind – do you agree with the steps the Access to Cash Review is recommending?

This is a guest post by Natalie Ceeney CBE. All views expressed are Natalie’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

Britain is not ready to go cashless. While many enjoy the simplicity and convenience of digital payments, they don’t yet work for everyone.

Our research found that around 17% of the population – 8 million adults – would struggle to cope in a cashless society.

Which? News: access to cash under threat

There is a widespread (and incorrect) perception that the main issue is with the old. In fact, the biggest indicator of being dependent on cash is poverty. Many people simply can’t take the risk of getting into debt, and cash remains the safest way of budgeting.

But we are fast moving away from cash. A decade ago, over 6 in every 10 transactions in the UK were in cash. It’s now down to just 3 in 10, and could fall to around 1 in 10 in 10-15 years.

Bank branch and ATM closures

We have an expensive cash infrastructure built for a world of high cash volumes, which is becoming unaffordable as cash volumes decline. We are already seeing cracks appearing with closures of bank branches and ATMs, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Today’s recommendations are built on a huge amount of analysis and data that we’ve gathered, not just from the UK, but also overseas.

We’ve taken into account a wide range of evidence, speaking to more than 120 organisations, including Which? and other consumer groups, as well as talking to thousands of consumers directly.

What we’re calling for

If we do nothing, we will have communities unable to access cash, and unable to spend it. We’re calling for:

A guarantee of access to cash

Cash access to be kept free to consumers

An investigation into the costs of banking cash for small businesses

A requirement for essential and monopoly services to accept cash

Rethinking infrastructure

As cash is free for consumers, we don’t tend to think much about the costs. But behind our ATMs and shops is a complex and expensive infrastructure costing around £5bn per year.

This was built for an age of high cash, and for profit. It’s now expensive to operate and, as cash declines, becoming uneconomical. If we want to keep cash viable, we need to think radically.

There are examples in Sweden, Norway and Finland that we can learn from. As their cash use has declined, they have created a joined up ‘utility’ for the wholesale infrastructure supporting cash, to keep cash viable.

We’re calling for the Bank of England to convene a group to develop a radically different model for the wholesale management of cash.

Policy and regulation

We can no longer take cash for granted. We need clear government policy on cash, a programme of work to develop digital payments which can include everyone, and a joined up oversight and regulation of cash.

Cash can no longer be seen as just a commercial issue. We believe that our recommendations will help keep cash viable for consumers, in a way which industry can afford.

But we now need action, before it’s too late – before we lose our cash infrastructure and millions are left behind.

This is a guest post by Natalie Ceeney CBE. All views expressed are Natalie’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

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Do you feel that we’re sleepwalking towards a cashless society? How could we be more prepared?

Graham Nicol says:
6 March 2019

I use debit card and cash in equal amounts and think a Cashless society will be bad for a lot of people and small businesses. It’s just easier for big businesses to do it but Small businesses and most people prefer to have cash

Brian Measures says:
6 March 2019

Card payments mean a portion of the price paid is taken as a charge to the retailer for using the banks machine.this together neither high rates will kill off high Street and corner shops.

Malik says:
6 March 2019

What about children – they still learn about the value of money by having cash as pocket money.

Cashless society? Possibly two generations from now this would not only be feasible but highly desirable.
But not now. I am seventy and have had cash in my pocket for at least sixty of them. But please don’t label me as a Luddite.
This is just another instance of the banks doing things “ for our good”. Please! Tell me anyone who has benefitted from the introduction of the five automated key presses to get to the department you need. Except the Banks.

John Reed says:
6 March 2019

The thought of going cashless is insane. We all rely on and need cash,

Mel says:
6 March 2019

In a cashless society we take yet one more step to the big brother system where our every transaction is monitored held in data banks and mined for even more information than that already gathered from the internet etc. about us. The main reasons that the banks want us to go cashless is to save them money and increase their profits, non of which will be passed back to the public. Additionally and more importantly it will further alienate the less well off who will not be able to afford to go cashless and those older members of the population who are already struggling to comprehend the speed at which the financial landscape is changing. We the public managed to prevent the abolition of cheques and we need to do the same for cash, the abolition of which will have a serious detrimental effect on society.

M Pearson says:
6 March 2019

A cashless society is for the benefit of banks, not the consumer. How on earth can we teach our children the value of money, how to spend it or how to save it, if there are no physical coins? It’s far too easy to flash a card at a payment machine and not truly realise just how much hard-earned income is disappearing. There must always be a system where both cards and cash have a place!

A cashless society would bring us one step closer to having embedded chips beneath the skin. Such a prospect is frightening and the public need to be made more aware of its dangers. If we remain apathetic to it, we submit to our own servitude.

Diana Scott says:
6 March 2019

Cash is vital for small businesses, community activities like garden fetes, school cake sales, flicks in the sticks, craft, keep-fit, art classes, car boot sales, farmers markets etc. Let’s not wipe out anymore of our community activities by letting banks take over our lives this way.

We are being pushed towards online and cashless banking for years now. Under no circumstances should we allow this to happen. It’s our money and we should be able to access it in whatever form we want. If we don’t get access to it in that form then we should act not as individuals but as a group and threaten to withdraw our money.

Even if it was possible to have an ever available digital system in place accross the whole of the UK I think that is not in the best interests of the general public to go in this direction. if all of your financial dealings appeared on your debit or credit card accounts this could well be used against you when you apply for a loan or a mortgage. On-line betting payments and pay day loan transactions are already responsible for declined applications–do you really want to give an increasingly nosey underwiting system that sort of information and power?

Séamus Ó Néill says:
6 March 2019

Don’t think me paranoid , but in a cashless/plastic only society, the government can instantly alienate any person THEY consider to be a “non-desirable”. With the press of a button an anonymous “anybody” can leave a person unable to purchase even basics like food. ,clothing , housing etc etc. This may sound Orwellian but the arm of government has long ago superseded George Orwell’s 1984 !

Betty Jacksonsa says:
6 March 2019

I prefer to have cash in my purse. Then I can stick to my budget more easily. Remove the tangible from our monetary system and finance becomes just an idea, a figment of the imagination.
Let us continue to have the choice.

Steven Jefferson says:
6 March 2019

We are mainly cashless. However Internet banking and cards and even Goodle and Apple Pay don’t replace those occasional times you need hard coinage.

Jameson says:
6 March 2019

Anybody would think banks are doing us a favour holding our money in their vaults and making a fortune in the process. It is about time banks offered a service including ATM and availability for cash as a large percentage of their customer need this service eg the elderly and those who have to manage their finances using money rather than cards which of course the banks prefer on cost grounds but don’t offer the protection when events go wrong through scams etc

Derek J.Day says:
6 March 2019

Cash is still necessary for the smaller things in life- e.g. church collections , charity collection boxes,
children’s pocket money , buskers , rough sleepers et al. Not all of society have bank accounts or
access to the internet.


Nirvanna says:
6 March 2019

Yesterday I walked into our village centre where there used to be branches of four clearing banks. I needed to draw cash for small purchases and went to the one remaining bank with a cash machine – it had broken down.

So I went on to the local d.i.y shop to make my purchases on my card instead, and found that their server had broken down and they could only take cash.

Says something for the underlying reliability of using cash doesn’t it?

I can fully understand why bank branches are shutting and we are being encouraged to go cashless – it is down to increasing profits for the banks. Receiving, holding and transporting cash is a very expensive business for them. Weigh that against unquantifiable cost to the local shopkeeper who now has to take his cash to the nearest branch of their bank (approximately 3 miles, apart from the one remaining in our village) all of which are located in a pedestrianised area of town and the risk to the shopkeeper is far greater than it is to the large banks! Clearly they have no community obligations in mind.

This is sleepwalking into the hands of Big Brother and the Banks. Everyone conducting whatever business with the public, large or small would be tied into paying fees to the banks for their card machines. Machines, they will have to fees to the Banks for and which rely on patchy internet service in many rural parts of the this country. Cash cannot be done away with, it is part of the thread that weaves and holds the fabric local commerce together.

Eileen Tarran says:
6 March 2019

I use both, when buying some things ie, clothes, furniture etc I use my debit card, debit card usage 99 per cent, if I buy from a catalogue, credit card. if I have to return an item no problem

Mr Raymond Yorkshire says:
6 March 2019

I did previously completed your survey saying that cash is still preferred by small companies and also for private sales purchases. I recently had my card stopped due to fraud purchase, replacement via post in 4 working days (unable to use cash machine or use internet banking) also forgot pin on second card so had to wait 5 working days via post for new pin, dilemma! only had £25 cash so very limited on what I could purchase. Ran out very quickly so had to go to bank (limited due to closures) and kindly with my driving licence they gave me £50 from my account. Lesson learned I will now carry more cash just in case.