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Waving goodbye to cash?


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Something rather curious happened to me on a recent visit to Sweden. I was in a shop, got my wallet out to pay with some krona and the assistant said “We don’t accept cash here”. And it appeared I hadn’t just inadvertently stumbled into a cashless zone but pretty much a cashless country! Subsequent research revealed that cash transactions made up barely 2% of the value of all payments made in Sweden last year, with cards and clever mobile apps like Swish now the default payment alternatives.

I got to thinking about the potential ramifications of this trend for us here in the UK. Admittedly, we are the country that as soon as they announced that cheques would be phased out by 2018 promptly wrote out 500m of them in 2015, prompting a U-turn from the industry. But we also have a capital city whose public transport system favours card technology and has indeed disallowed cash on its buses for some time, so we’re not inveterate Luddites. But as people’s wallets increasingly transition from luxury leather item to colourful screen icon, are we closing in on a cashless society?

You can certainly see the benefits for retailers. No more cashing up, no more bank runs, no more till dipping and discrepancies, no cash left on the premises, no float management. For consumers, a waft of the contactless card or a thumbprint on their phone is arguably far more convenient that ferreting around for the right cash and carting the inevitable shrapnel around in purse or pocket. Interesting social implications too, of course, with an implicit auditable ie taxable record of all payments and a potential impact on crime and corruption when it’s simply no longer possible to pay off people with a large suitcase of used tenners.

But we have to be realistic and the resistance to change that gave a stay of execution to the cheque will delay a universal non-cash payment system for a little while yet. That said, is there any barrier to a retailer taking a unilateral view and choosing to take card/electronic payment only?

Whether it’s now or later, the fact that more consumers are looking to pay the easy way means that retailers need to ensure they have the appropriate environment in place to enable and safeguard those transactions as volumes inevitably rise – solid connectivity, five nines availability, mobile coverage, PCI compliance, sophisticated security, plus the flexibility and scalability to accommodate future payment mechanisms. Retinal scans, anyone? One stare in the wrong place and you might get a lot more than you bargained for.



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