Is the UK going cashless?

Written by Jason Morris on Monday July 2, 2018

I recently wrote about how the cashless society is gathering pace in certain regions around the globe, in particular, Scandinavia, and looked at the pros and cons of this movement on society. The article highlighted that cash transactions in Sweden have been reducing at a rapid rate in recent years and that most people find that to be a positive development.


The UK has not embraced cashless systems with the same vigour that others, like Sweden, have. But, we could be approaching a tipping point in this country very soon. A recent Guardian article has found the cashless approach to be increasingly popular, particularly with businesses in the food and drink sector it seems.


The article focused on a popular complex of shipping containers in Manchester called Hatch that has been converted into a collection of retail, food and drink outlets, where one of the bars was a card-only establishment. This is something that caught the author by surprise, but which is a growing trend in certain areas.


Cashless society


Manchester is one of the UK’s major cities, so I suppose it’s understandable that it’s happening there – the article goes on to list other examples of establishments operating a card-only policy in London and Bristol too – but what’s surprising to me is that these are relatively small businesses who, I guess, are doing it predominantly for financial reasons. It’s much cheaper to operate an electronic payment system where monies can be added to accounts automatically, speedily and safely, as opposed to the cost of collating cash, holding it safely, balancing the books at the end of each night and then transporting it securely to the bank to deposit it safely in the account.


I suppose what’s surprised me most about this is that I haven’t been consciously aware of it happening around me yet. It seems as if cashless spending is just creeping into everyday activity in a way that goes unnoticed, perhaps because it’s happening at these small, niche outlets, rather than the bigger, well-known establishments.


Subtle changes to behaviours are happening though, even to me, and I consider myself to still be a regular user of cash. But I find that I select a cashless option far more frequently now than I did five years ago, and crucially, I’m far more accepting of the cashless options, trusting them much more than I have done in the past. I’m Generation X and I’m probably typical of that generation. Millennials and Generation Z are using these methods far more frequently, and I think they will be the catalyst for more widespread – and who knows, maybe even complete – acceptance of cashless behaviours in the future. One can’t help but feel that a fully cashless society will become an eventuality, perhaps sooner rather than later.


Unlike the author of the article, I’ve not yet been in an establishment which has been unable to take my cash, although it may only be a matter of time before this happens. We do seem to be in a state of change, and with UK high street bank branches closing at the rate of 60 per month in the last three years, there’s a certain air of inevitability around a cashless future. This seems likely for everyday purchases at least because many businesses will now have to make significant changes to their banking procedures, specifically in respect of depositing cash takings on a daily/weekly basis, given the reduced number of branches now available.


My previous cashless society article also talked about how going cashless could have a significant impact on money laundering, largely due to the fact that a significant chunk of the cash in circulation is in the hands of criminals. Reducing the use of cash will drive them to either spend it or convert it into a form of currency that will allow them to continue to move their criminal proceeds around.


For me, this alone is a really good reason for going cashless, and perhaps as a society, we should encourage and support small businesses like the one in Manchester that have opted to go completely cashless. No doubt this will take some getting used to for a lot of customers, but funnily enough, I don’t think it will take long for most people to make the switch. Certain behaviours become automatic if you do them long enough, but the human brain is surprisingly quick to adapt and change to new behaviours. Cashless could become the new automatic response.



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