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Cleveland McBeth

An Increasingly Cashless Society

Money is constantly evolving. Take a family spanning three generations, for example. The oldest member, or the grandparent, grew up using paper currency for everything. The middle generation was raised using bills and coins, switched to checks for a few years, and eventually transitioned to cards. Meanwhile, the youngest generation rarely touches cash, grew up using cards, and is even comfortable utilizing mobile payments such as PayPal or Venmo. This evolution has occurred because money is a living concept, and as such, it changes based on society’s need to constantly create something that is more efficient, versatile and secure.

It is this trend that begs the million-dollar question: are we moving toward a cashless society, similar to some European countries that are ahead of us? Despite the U.S. trending that direction, it is unlikely that we will be completely cashless in the foreseeable future. However, there are plenty of changes and opportunities that partners within the channel should keep an eye on to make sure they’re prepared for an increasingly cashless environment.

First, brick and mortar banks are fundamentally changing, and you may not have even noticed since online and mobile banking has replaced the need for regular in-person visits. Many banks have downsized, and the long line of tellers has been replaced by ATMs and representatives who can assist with financial planning and setting up accounts. Others, such as Capital One Cafés, are remodeling to more closely resemble a coffee shop than a bank. In this case, it’s about offering a service that seamlessly integrates with one’s lifestyle. Regardless, the majority of those who still enter the doors of a bank will likely interact with a kiosk instead of a person, and financial institutions have to invest in the broadband and UC systems that allow for prompt customer service.

Along a similar vein, many people have accepted and embraced the convenience offered by third parties, such as PayPal, Venmo and Cash App. Without directly interacting with the bank, a person can send and receive funds instantly with the touch of button. Funds are transferred directly from one account to another, all without the need for cash or check. Similar to the Capital One Cafés, these services are meant to make banking so easy that users are hardly aware they’re doing it.

Due to this shift, some retailers have tried to prohibit the use of cash in their stores, causing various U.S. cities and states to pass laws requiring retailers to accept cash. As previously mentioned, parts of Europe have taken a different approach. Shops and businesses in Sweden, one of the most cashless societies in the world, are legally allowed to refuse cash payments. That’s because less than one percent of the value of all Swedish payments are made in cash. In fact, over half of Sweden’s bank branches don’t deal in any cash, thanks largely to the country’s early and near-ubiquitous adoption of advanced financial solutions and NFC cards. So, even if the U.S. isn’t following in the immediate footsteps of other countries, it can be valuable to look to the early adopters to see what worked well and what caused strife.

In conclusion, it’s unlikely our older generations will adopt the use of mobile wallets. And, countries like Sweden have received criticism for adopting a more technologically progressive system since requiring a card or mobile phone to complete transactions can have negative effects on underprivileged and underserved communities. However, even if cash remains in circulation, the trend toward an increasingly cashless society cannot be ignored. The evolution is happening – slowly and surely. That’s why our partners who prepare today for this transition will reap the benefits tomorrow.