For nearly ten years, I have been commenting on the move away from cash. In 2014 I was telling readers that cash would no longer be accepted on London’s bus network. Then, two years ago, I recounted my experience of using the Apple Watch as a convenient contactless payment method.
Even at that time, my use of cash was minimal. Now, in 2021, it is non-existent. You may be interested to read of my experiences. I fully expect to get shot down in flames, although the indignation wanes with every year that passes.
I can confidently say that I haven’t had a coin in my pocket at any time in the past twelve months. Coins do not feature in my life any more. In fact, the only coin I can remember fondling since 4th end of 2019 is the commemorative crown (five shillings, 25 pence) which I found in my desk drawer on Christmas Eve.
Notes, or bills, have similarly been banished except, that is, for the same single £10 note I have kept in my wallet since the beginning of 2020. I have never needed to use it, and it is there solely for emergencies. In fact, it’s good that paper has been banished in favour of the current polymer bill; it lasts much longer in the wallet.
Time was when I would scoff at people paying for a coffee with a credit card. Time wasters, I thought, as I fumed in the queue at the Starbucks counter. Soon I realised it was quicker to swipe than to pull out coins or wait for change. Suddenly, about two years ago, I lost my inhibitions and now pay for all everyday items with my Apple Watch (linked to a credit card) or the card itself.
There is now talk in Britain of increasing the swipe-card limit from £30 to £100, thus knocking another view nails into the coin coffers.
Cash not king
I have become rather militant in outlook. If a business doesn’t accept electronic payment, I walk out. There’s always one next door that does.
Many, I know, will find this attitude intolerable (so let’s hear from you). Why should we be forced to use electronic payment methods? In reality, I don’t feel forced into anything. I discipline myself because it’s what I want to do.
A happy corollary of this new-found freedom is the ultra-minimal wallet. I’ve always tried to be economical in the contents of my wallet. Some, I know, carry around vast compendiums, often stuffed with dozens of cards and useless impedimenta, to the degree that they are incapable of fitting into a pocket.
How often have you seen fat wallet man, invariably a man, carrying his vast wallet, keys, and phone in hand? I’ve never quite understood this. Perhaps it’s meant to impress on the basis that more cards equal more credit and therefore greater wealth.
I don’t even bother with loyalty cards unless they can be uploaded to the Apple Watch and I carry only what I deem to be essential. At the moment this boils down to:
- One credit card
- My free travel pass to take me around London and on local buses throughout England. At the moment, this indispensable little card this cannot be loaded to phone or watch.
- One £10 note for emergencies (not that I’ve had one in the past uneventful year)
We are fortunate in Britain in that we need nothing else in our wallets. Identity documents do not exist, hereabouts. We don’t even need to carry our licence when driving. So that’s it, and I can’t wait to get rid of the physical travel pass so I can get down to just one thin bit of plastic.
No travel, no cash
Some countries, such as Sweden, are even more advanced in “no-platforming” cash. But other areas of Europe are still living in the last century when it comes to acceptance of cashless payments. Indeed, one of the reasons I have been able to go a whole year without handling cash is that I haven’t been abroad because of the pandemic. By the time the gates at Heathrow reopen, I’m hoping that everywhere I visit will have caught up with us in the cashless stakes.
Of course, there are valid counter-arguments to electronic payments. What happens if there’s an electricity cut and you can’t buy a prawn sandwich? What happens if the systems go down for other reasons? What happens if there’s a coup and they close down the internet?
These are all possibilities, I admit. I remember once, about two years ago, suffering a power cut my area of London. That was quite an event. No traffic lights, no lights anywhere and no way of paying for my cappuccino. Most shops had to close, not for the lack of internet but because their cash tills didn’t work; that’s another issue.
Thankfully, such occasions are very rare, almost to the point of not featuring in the equation. And I do have my good old £10 cash to fall back on.
The one major objection to going cashless is worry about government snooping. It’s a valid concern, but I remain sanguine. The worry is that, if there is no cash in use, everyone has to use bank accounts. And bank accounts mean less opportunity to evade tax. If you work for cash and don’t pay tax, how do you use that cash or pay it into your bank account? I do, however, accept the convenience cashless payments, with all the potential for snooping, in the interests of an easier life.
This brings me to the subject of who really needs cash…
One strange by-product of the cashless society, which I mentioned in my previous article, is the denomination of currency notes and the effect on cash use.
Our neighbours in the Eurozone can stuff a wad of blue €500 notes in their wallets (just in case…). They also have the joy of €200 and €100 notes to play with. I absolutely do not understand this; at least the €500 note is banned in the UK because of criminal abuse. Why would any law-abiding citizen wish to use such large denominations, I wonder?
I think we’ve been more sensible with our currency in England and Wales and this directly minimises the opportunity for tax evasion. As local readers will attest, £20 ($27,€23) is the highest denomination in general circulation. A £50 note exists, but I can’t say I’ve seen one this side of the pandemic. ATMs don’t dispense them, and I really don’t know why they keep printing them. But it’s obvious what they are used for, illegal stuff, as recounted in this lively video:
The obvious course of action is to withdraw all £50 notes and then investigate anyone who turns up at a bank with a suitcase full. Inevitably the gains will be ill-gotten.
I believe the USA is similar in outlook to England and Wales when it comes to large denominations, with the $100 bill (£72) being the largest in general circulation.
Just for the record, the £50 limit applies only to England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland do have their own £100 notes. Perhaps someone will tell me the reason. But if you are wondering why these countries have their own currency notes, take a look at the £100,000,000 Bank of England note, below:
I’ve set my course and it’s been pretty plane sailing so far. With my wafer-thin wallet and a pocket free of jangling coins, I believe I’ve almost reached cashless Nirvana. I am pretty sure that within ten years cash for everyday transactions will be a curiosity in many countries.
What do you think? Are you still a cashofile and, if so, why? Are you planning to go cashless anytime soon? Are you a fan of the €500 note, the $100 bill? And if you live in Europe, what justification is there for the existence of €500 and €200 denominations, if not for nefarious purposes?