In fact, there has been progress and there are now good examples of successful cash campaigning. These suggest that highly localised campaigns, developed for the specific circumstances, are the key to success. Perhaps our associations need to focus and work together country by country to make the case for payment choice.
In parts of Europe, the Far East and Antipodes and Canada a trend away from using transactional cash has been underway for some time. We do not yet know what the long term impact of the pandemic will be on payments but, undoubtedly, significant numbers of people have started to pay with contactless cards and mobile wallets rather than with cash.
Amongst those who support cash remaining a major transactional payment option, one hears complaints that the alternatives are being promoted as part of strategies by large global organisations with big budgets – the card companies, ie. Visa and MasterCard, the technology companies such as PayPal, Apple, Google, WeChat and AliPay, and commercial banks. Cash represents a cost to them while non-cash payments offer lucrative profits derived both from fees and charges as well as huge value in the consumer payment data. We are all familiar with the benefits that they argue accrue for individuals, retailers and merchants, and the state.
Meanwhile, the logical advocates for cash, central banks, maintain determinedly their neutrality about different payment instruments and won’t promote one over another – arguing for choice and seeking the lowest payment cost to the economy and society.
Over the last few years, we have seen the establishment of the International Currency Association (ICA), the creation of Cash Essentials and campaigning by industry associations such as ATMIA, among others. And still cash usage declines in many parts of the world. Why, and is there a different way?
We should be in no doubt that the work mentioned above, along with many other initiatives, has made a difference and does contribute to telling the story for cash.
But, as the financial activist and cash supporter Brett Scott said from the podium at the last Future of Cash conference, there is a sense of defeatism among central banks and the industry, an acceptance of the inevitability of the decline of cash. The impact on cash usage in this pandemic runs the risk of reinforcing this sense that decline is inevitable.
In fact, we would argue that until the pandemic arrived, progress was evident. Recent legislation in Sweden and New Zealand is helpful to cash. There are grass root campaigns backed by politicians in the US to support cash. A number of European central banks – Spain, the Netherlands and the UK for example – have presented the steps they have been taking to support the access to cash and/or to reduce the cost of cash to society.
In the UK a report known as ‘Access to Cash’, paid for by the LINK ATM organisation, led to a series of specific recommendations which are now being enacted. The consumer organisation Which? has become an active advocate for cash and a media campaign has seen frequent articles supporting access to and the maintenance of cash across both the popular tabloid press and more learned publications. A parliamentary select committee has considered the report and is taking an active interest in progress on the recommendations.
In all cases, the ‘defence’ of cash has required detailed steps to be taken around common themes such as making it accessible (to withdraw and deposit), to ensure stores don’t refuse to accept it and to ensure the infrastructure is cost effective. A consensus has had to be secured amongst politicians that payment choice is valuable for society and that timely, specific action is needed.
There are sensible, real benefits for each user group (the public, retailers, banks) from using cash compared with the alternatives. But the campaigns that use these to make the case for cash have to be local, targeted and worded to suit the circumstances.
The membership of the ICA, ATMIA, ESTA etc. are global. The broad benefits of cash for payments apply across all countries and such bodies have a role in providing the data and research that support cash. They also can, and do, have a vital role in spreading the message among regulators, politicians, and central banks. But, this aside, they inevitably end up speaking to their own members and constituents – in other words, ‘preaching to the converted’.
Where cash campaigns have been most successful – whether in the UK, US, Sweden, New Zealand or elsewhere – they have been driven by consumer groups with the interests of their local constituencies, in their own countries, at their heart.
Hence, whereas the message is global, the support – and ultimately, we hope, the success – needs to be local.