Growing concern about fast track to cashless society
Worries about the imminent arrival of a cashless society seem to be everywhere this August. Well, not quite everywhere, but some thoughtful media anyway.
We know ‘real’ politics is on hold for summer but it’s still encouraging to see headlines such as:
- The last bank within driving range is closing, I don’t know how I will get cash. (Telegraph)
- Fears cashless society could leave more than the vulnerable behind. (Guardian)
- Could you survive on cash for a day? (Sunday Times)
- Apps are everywhere but who’s counting the human cost? (Observer)
- UK Banks: three mile islands. (Financial Times)
All the writers express concern about the rapid decline in use and accessibility of cash. But in so doing they also acknowledge something wider: an accelerating rush to digitalise affecting the lives of millions.
This is good news to those including Citizens Advice campaigning against digital exclusion.
Many of our clients in Epsom & Ewell are older, or vulnerable, or on low incomes. They may have poor digital skills or equipment. Or want to keep account of every pound they spend. To these people and others – tourists, some small businesses – cash remains very important.
And things are changing fast.
10 years ago cash accounted for 55% of all payments. In 2021 according to UK Finance, a banking association, the share of cash was 15%; by 2031 they expect it will be 6%. That adds up to a social revolution and demands specific responses from government and business at every level.
It might just be innovating (a bit) more slowly. Or showing (a little) more empathy with those affected. Or restraining the natural wish to speed to the next station (special message to Rail Delivery Group whose vision of that destination is where ‘new style customers travel with their mobile devices in hand’).
Fortunately the message is getting through.
Whether we’re helping troubled clients move forward or policymakers improve digital inclusion, at CAEE we collaborate with like-minded organisations.
Among the leaders are Age UK and the Good Things Foundation whose own ‘vision is a world where everyone benefits from digital’. The Foundation (we are members of their support network) is critical of policy that means ‘digitally excluded people are largely forgotten’.
No complacency but this collective effort is having an effect. The Treasury has published a significant Cash Access Policy Statement. It sets out the advantages of modern payment systems but acknowledges that ‘digital payments may not yet be a suitable option for many people who still rely on notes and coins’.
Meanwhile we take comfort from 2 wise observations from our media evidence:
“Technology doesn’t have to be dehumanising but if it’s to avoid that outcome it has to be human-focused, not just consumer-focused, and in particular not just digital-consumer-focused.” (Observer).
“The message from the Treasury is that banks have a universal service obligation, akin to Royal Mail’s duty to deliver letters.” (Financial Times)