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Borrowing lines from the most popular song and movie quotes, money is: king, queen, sexy, dirty, all ruling, filthy, nothing, easy and cheap, all at once. In reality, all are true, but in a society grappling with global pandemic, a few of those descriptors deserve circling for immediate consideration.

Cash is a germophobe’s worst nightmare, spreading everything from virus to bacteria with every person to person transaction, yet in some parts of the world, it already hardly exists. Isn’t it time the rest of the world plays catch up?

The technology is already there. Payment can even be taken in the middle of a remote field, using the connection from any mobile phone. In terms of travel, eliminating just one person to person point of contact could be all the difference in any spread.

The revolution is already near completion in Scandinavia, where Sweden and Norway are already circa 99% cashless. Even if you have cash, it’s not always easy to spend it. Digital payment solutions are everywhere, with significantly lower risk to businesses and less hassle too. For small businesses, cash is just one extra headache they no longer need.

Plus, cash is slow. Businesses can complete more sales per hour with card payments. Contactless payment takes the already faster method of paying by credit card and cuts it in half, with transaction times under 20 seconds from start to finish.

The average contactless or digital transaction time is 15-17 seconds, for your next pub quiz.

a close up of a credit card readerFor merchants, recent studies show that accepting cash can also cost a business more than the transaction percentage fees charged by credit card providers, particularly if a company needs to be paid to transport or deposit the funds, and there’s also the greater risk of fraud from employees.

Basically, the argument that cash is “better” for business is dying. In reality, cash is just better for “hiding” business.

Despite endless negatives from the devastation of this unprecedented virus, positives are still everywhere. Society is learning to help stop the spread of the next global issue by embracing social practices which will slow down future transmission.

Contactless credit card payments, where people pay just by holding their phone near the machine, is just one of the many, but it’s a major one. If you recently re-screened the movie Contagion, you’ll note all the scenes where things change hands.

Going forward, the fewer scenarios where you or your things touch the things of someone else and their things the better. For modeling of future spread, it could be all the difference.

Ultimately, any counter arguments to this societal progress come down to access and technology, both of which are being addressed with each day. Wired has a fantastic piece on the issue. Many argue that a cashless society puts certain groups, such as the elderly or lower income individuals, at risk, since they have lesser access or ease of use with digital banking products.

a man selling food at a street marketIf humankind will ever move to a fully digital world of money, the most at risk groups cannot be cut off. Digital banking products must be available to everyone. The emergence of new Fintech products, including digital bank accounts without credit checks, is part of this new frontier.

The other old argument, that payment processors were hard for merchants to come by is already a non starter. Anyone can accept payment anywhere their mobile phone has service, with just a little dongle. You can stand in the middle of a field and accept contactless payment, so why shouldn’t any business in a city center?

Digital banking is safer than paper statements and physical credit or debit cards in almost every way, even with the threat of data breaches and online hacking.

Whereas in the old world, people wouldn’t know of fraud on their accounts until they received their next monthly statement, today’s world allows anyone to see transactions in real time, and make one singular tap to stop a fraudulent charge before their accounts, or those of the bank get stung.

In post war societies, such as those in Eastern Europe where cash remains king, fear is the defining factor keeping people from moving to digital banking. These people watched entire governments fold, bank balances turned to zero and saw fortunes stolen overnight, so many from this era don’t trust anything other than the “in God we trust” notes hidden under the mattress.

But as long as that exists, society will face greater risks with future spreads, businesses will make less money and we’ll all be more at risk. Money is dirty, and it’s time to embrace a cashless society.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Uhm, no thanks.

    People have been exchanging things by hand with other humans for almost our whole time on this planet. Why are these germs any different than the germs of the past?

    If the argument is really that ‘this time it’s different’, I’d love for someone to show some *actual* data. So far, I’ve seen none.

    Also, most places give cash discounts – why would I give that up? Cash can’t be tracked, it’s waaaay better for confidential exchanges.

    And, I enjoy the exchange of goods and services for money. There is something much more personal about it than paying with a card or a phone.

    So, yeah, no thanks.

    Maybe some bloggers should get actual jobs instead of just working behind computers all day? There is still a society out there that functions pretty well – despite ideas like I am reading all day long from all the people pumping out endless opinions on everything.

    1. Germs (viruses, bacteria) do change (mutate) and global travel is a relatively new thing that allows these germs to reach everyone almost instantly. Not sure where you shop, but cash discounts (unless your are a tax-evader) are seldom seen. Your last argument about it being more personal is silly. It may have been more “personal” to exchange a basket of wheat for a dozen apples but we don’t do that anymore. As for bloggers and all these opinions, you obviously read them so shut up.

  2. Good luck serving the under-banked and un-banked. You will not see this any time soon unless the government gives every person a digital bank account and a strong safety net like you have in Scandinavia. Cities are going the other way in the US and banning cash-less stores because of the implications for at-risk individuals, which you gloss over in the article.

  3. Criminals and tax evaders are using the underbanked and senior argument to keep their criminal enterprises and tax evasion ongoing. My 79 year old mother is card saavy, and financial products such as Serve and Bluebird are unbelievably easy for the poor to use. There is no excuse for not going cashless, and I applaud every time one of these criminals gets their “life savings” seized by the gov’t.

  4. Never gonna happen for myriad reasons. Much of the global economy functions using cash. I’m sure you know why.

  5. No thanks, Modi. You can keep your credit cards, and I’ll gladly take my cash.

    What good is your credit card or bitcoin acct if your cell phone or internet signal is dead?

    What’s next – you gonna recommend we go full China and give out social credit scores for those that pay in cash? F that. I dont need the gov and businesses always trying to find out what I buy.

  6. and only globalist, power-hungry ret@rds would ever say criminals and the underbanked only use cash. Errrr… lotsa crime with credit cards and ACH trasnactions, too.

  7. Love the concept… but cannot reconcile the fallout!

    It’s never good to have one method of payment. Cash, barter et al are too relevant.

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