For a lot of people, it can feel as though they’re participants in a cashless society already. Their paychecks are direct-deposited into an account from which bills are automatically debited. They also regularly make payments (in-person and online) without ever handling cold-hard cash.
Virtually every business accepts plastic, and you can slide or insert a card to buy a candy bar on almost any new vending machine. And with the ubiquity of mobile payment processing devices plugged into cell phones, you could likely buy from four different vendors at the local farmers’ market without ever touching paper money.
That being said, our society is anything but cashless. Most people still carry cash, use cash, and take it for granted as a still-relevant staple of societal financial interactions. But as common as cash remains, the technological, societal, and even global trend has certainly been moving steadily into a more cash-free space. So will we see a cashless society in our lifetime? And perhaps more importantly, do we want one?
The Benefits of a Cashless Society
A number of the benefits of a cashless society are already apparent. We buy virtually anything we need or want from anywhere on the planet where people sell things online, and we do so with the click of a button. Furthermore, many of us haven’t sat down with a stack of bills, stamps, and envelopes to send out checks for bill payments in years.
There’s no question that digital transactions make commerce more convenient. To some degree, cashless commerce forces transparency and accountability for the payer and the paid. Electronic payments are recorded in perpetuity to the cent. It’s not just a matter of dishonesty or theft. Even something like by-check utility payment processing still relied on a series of people physically moving, sorting, collecting, and processing the check. And as people are only human, occasionally mistakes or outright errors are made. Indeed, utility payment processing has come a long way, and with payment processing improvements, left a lot of human error by the wayside.
The Drawbacks of a Cashless Society
The footprint left by digital payments remains an accessible, permanent record that a transaction was made, which is great for most people making them. It is not great for people who’d prefer their financial transactions weren’t being tracked and recorded. But that can be good for society in general. For instance, a cashless society would make illegal and dangerous transactions more difficult, or at least easier to track and uncover when they did occur.
While that may sound more like a benefit than a drawback (and it is), criminals aren’t the only people with an interest in transactions that aren’t tracked, recorded, and linked to them. Without going into detail, there are any number of products and services that are personal, sensitive, medical, etc. that people have perfectly good reasons for wanting to keep private.
Will We See a Cashless Society?
Cash does have some undeniable benefits beyond discretion for the spender. It’s immediately available and virtually universally accepted. It’s also convenient for person-to-person transactions, and has gained popularity for larger transactions like securing a quick-close on, and lowering the price for, a house. And there are some people who simply want to keep their assets liquid, physical, and under their direct control.
So, will we see a cashless society in our lifetime? It is possible. Despite the trend toward more plastic and digitally-stored currency, cash is still very much a feature of our society and culture. We will, undoubtedly, continue to see an increasingly cashless society, but it will be a while before hard currency is phased out entirely.
One of the most respected, successful, innovative, and forward-looking thought leaders in the financial services industry, Payscout has consistently earned their way onto lists of America’s fastest-growing private companies every year since 2014. In addition to their non profit payment processing, Payscout’s state-of-the-art interactive user platforms continue to serve their mission statement, “Payscout supports the entrepreneurial dream one transaction at a time.”
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