This weekend marks the first 52 weeks of my cashless challenge – a time to reflect on being cashless in the UK.

Cash is in rapid decline:

Source: UK Finance

Don’t take my word for it, this is the view of UK Finance – cash as a percentage of all payments has declined from 60% in 2008 to 28% last year and is forecast to fall to just 9% in just 9 years time!

Data released by Link, the UK’s ATM network, provider tells a similar story – 2019 cash withdrawals are significantly lower than 2018.

Payment choice is crucial:

The transition towards a cashless society in the UK is gathering significant pace and is supported by a proliferation of new payment options.

However, the cashless challenge we face is not a binary argument about ‘cash’ versus ‘cashless’ where one side will emerge a victor.

The transition to cashless needs to be led by the consumer not the banks, government or retailers. It needs to be accessible and inclusive for all those in society.

Once upon a time ‘cash is king’ was the cry, now the cry should be ‘payment choice for all’ – the German Budesbank sums this up well:

“Consumers should be able to decide for themselves how they pay. For us, it is important to have a broad mix of options and that efficient methods for payment are available”

Burkhard Balz, Bundesbank, Germany.

The challenge is, as Balz puts it, to ensure the UK has a broad mix of efficient options for the consumer to decide how they pay for something and, I will add, that are inclusive and accessible to all.

Consumer choice is crucial and, for those that want to dispense with notes and coins, the UK has a broad range of inclusive cashless payment options.

My challenge:

Twelve months ago I set myself the challenge to be completely cashless. I have been amazed by the levels of interest – friends, Twitter followers (you may have been following this experiment on Twitter (@mike_chambers_), and those I meet in meetings often ask me how my challenge is going and offer up their experiences.

A year after setting my self-imposed cashless challenge I’ve proved that being cashless is not only possible but efficient and convenient.

The handful of ‘week 1’ cash only payment options quickly diminished and with one exception every one of my regular transactions is now cashless.

The keys to success:

In truth becoming almost cashless was not difficult, I was probably already almost cashless anyway. I’ve spent my whole career in electronic payments and you’d expect the former CEO of Bacs to be positive about cashless payments!

Also, if you observe payment habits in shops and restaurants or look at the transactions on your bank statement you’ll probably conclude that most of the UK population are already almost cashless.

Given the fantastic breadth of payment choice in the UK and the wide range of efficient cashless options available my cashless challenge was not too difficult.

Amongst this wide range of payment choice several FinTech solutions have made my cashless year seamless.

For me, the most important FinTech enablers over the last 12 months have been:

Starling Bank | Apple Pay | Apple Wallet | Apple Watch | iPhone |Money Box | Tesco Pay+ | Pay Pal | Train Line | Uber

The most significant enabler of my cashless challenge has been Starling Bank:

“It’s amazing that Mike has gone an entire year with no cash at all and Starling is proud to have helped him do this. There are so many benefits to going cashless, from security to ease of use. It’s no surprise that in the UK, only around 30% of transactions use cash, with card payments being the most popular.”

“But, while it’s clear that cashless payments are the future, they don’t work for everyone and it’s important that there is proper planning in place for the decline in cash usage. At Starling, we formed a partnership with the Post Office to enable our customers to deposit and withdraw cash at 11,500 Post Office branches. That service is very popular and serves an important need for our personal and business customers. We don’t see this need disappearing any time soon.”

Alexandra Frean – Head of Corporate Affairs, Starling Bank.

Cashless Giving:

During the year, I’ve had to think carefully about whether a cashless society might impact charitable giving. I’ve come to a simple conclusion – surely a cashless donation is better than a couple of coins thrown in a tin?

Over the past twelve months I have been following the incredible story of two organisations.

TAP London are making the most of the cashless revolution as they seek to tackle homelessness one tap at a time.

“Contactless is overtaking cash in popularity; charities simply cannot afford to ignore that. We are keen to make sure homelessness charities aren’t left behind, by making it easy for people to donate to the local homelessness charities in their communities.

By making giving easy, efficient and localised, we are using technology and innovation to open up access to a previously untapped pool of donors. Over 30,000 Londoners have stopped to #giveatap about homelessness this year. We are delighted to see contactless thriving in this space.”

Polly Gilbert, Co-Founder, TAP London

Pennies is an award-winning FinTech charity promoting the charitable sector and making giving accessible, affordable and feel-good through the digital charity box. Pennies offers a way for customers to donate when they pay by card or digital wallet, in-store and online. Depending on the retailer’s choice, this can be a round-up or a top-up option. Pennies is all about giving your small change a big purpose, and making a meaningful difference.

“At a time where less-cash is prevalent in society today and digital payments are rising, it is interesting to see people like Mike are showing it’s possible to live completely cashless. As the way we shop and pay for things is changing, it is important that there is always a way for people to donate in small amounts even without the physical cash. Here at Pennies, we are proud to be at the forefront of the digital micro-donation movement and thank Mike for his incredible support for our work.”

Alison Hutchinson CBE, CEO at Pennies

Cashless challenges have been addressed – cashless is the new normal

Twelve months ago I had to think about, ask or pre-plan my spending plans to ensure that a cashless transaction would be possible or whether I needed an alternative payment method.

Now cashless options are so ubiquitous that being cashless is the new normal. The dry cleaners, car washes, car parks and food take aways have all started accepting cashless payments.

Twelve months ago, I faced stickers on POS machines stating that a minimum spend was necessary for cashless payments. I am pleased to say that I do not come across these annoying stickers any longer.

The £30 contactless payment limit is a pain and it would be good to see it increased but, far more importantly, if all retailers enabled ‘limitless’ Apple Pay transactions I could finally dispense with my physical debit card and wallet.

Outside of my regular types of purchases there has been the odd hiccup during the year – cash only payment to use the inter-island ferries on the Shetland Islands and a school tuck shop are two examples of an incredibly small list.

As I mark my first cashless anniversary I am left with one final regular cash based transaction and one token based requirement. Some restaurants only offer cash based tipping of staff and I need a £1 coin to use a shopping trolley or the locker at the gym – there must be better solutions to these two final scenarios!

What next?

Having mastered being cashless I am now about to embark on two further challenges.

The first is to banish the paper receipt. Paper receipts are largely pointless only end up in the first bin I see so I always decline to accept a receipt in a shop.

But, in addition to an efficiency challenge, there is also a significant environmental angle to this new challenge.

Roisin Levine, Head of Banks at Flux (www.tryflux.com) makes a great case for the paper receipt to be banished.

“Flux envisions a purely digital future for payments and receipts. Right now a staggering 11.2 billion paper receipts are printed in the UK annually and around half of these are non recyclable due to the fact that they are printed on thermal coated paper. That’s almost 200,000 trees that are needlessly felled each year for the sake of receipts. 90% of these receipts are thrown away or go unused and nearly half of us (47%), agree that traditional receipts are a waste of paper. Our mission at Flux is to make paper receipt obsolete and digital ones available to everyone everywhere.

We see Flux being adopted in a similar way to contactless technology, an efficient and useful innovation that eventually becomes the norm. Flux believes customers should be able to pay by card and receive a digital receipt straight into their bank account next to the transaction without any change or friction at the till. Flux launched the Beat the Receipt campaign to call upon consumers and retailers to change how they view paper receipts and so far KFC, Pure, Itsu & EAT. have all joined the campaign to help reduce paper waste across the UK.”

Roisin Levine, Head of Banks at Flux

Receipts, rewards and loyalty that live in your banking app and not landfill.

My second challenge is to maximise the use of ‘frictionless’ payments.

We’ve already seen the dematerialisation of the debit card from a physical object to a virtual card on a device. We are already on the cusp of not needing to carry a physical card and when ‘limitless’ Apple Pay is ubiquitous I can finally stop carrying a card with me.

Whilst that will be real progress the next step is for the payment to be fully embedded in the merchants App so that the payment is made in the background. Uber and the Train Line are two great examples of this. Payment by Direct Debit for the Dartford Toll when crossing the Thames is another.

But I musn’t forget finding a solution for cashless tips in a restaurant and using a £1 coin as a token at the supermarket!

An upgrade to the 21st Century:

Perhaps the last word should go to Brett King the author of Bank 4.0 (which I read this summer):

“Cash is an inefficient value exchange mechanism in a world driven by digital interaction and commerce. Don’t think of it as going cashless, think of it as an upgrade to the 21st century!”

Brett King, author of Bank 4.0 and Founder of Moven

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