Just How Close Are We To A Cashless Society?

How much cash do you have in your wallet right now? Twenty bucks? Maybe $30? If you’re like a majority of Americans, you probably have less on hand. But does that mean we’re headed to a cashless society? Not necessarily.

Most transactions these days are completed with a swipe of a card or online by just inputting information on a form online. Many of us forget we have a couple of bills tucked into our wallet until we have to pay for parking somewhere, and even that can be done with a card.

There are definitely some pros to personally operating without cash. For instance, there’s a certain level of security to paying with plastic. If your wallet gets swiped, you just have to call the bank, as opposed to losing a few hundred in cash which can’t be traced. It’s also faster at the checkout line, and who doesn’t want to save time?

But there are certain situations in which you definitely want some cash in your pocket. Farmers markets are still primarily run on a cash system. When you’re on vacation it’s a good idea to have some cash on hand to tip vendors, valets and bellhops. Despite our reliance on technology, it’s not infallible. If card readers stop working at the grocery store, you could be out of luck. And as “Money Girl” blogger Laura Adams points out, if you’re trying to budget your money, cash tends to be harder to part with than a swipe of a debit or credit card.

About 80 percent of our transactions are facilitated electronically, and some countries, like Sweden have such a low percentage of cash transactions that some stores don’t even accept it anymore. In fact, it looks like Sweden will be cashless soon, and other nations may follow suit.

According to Scott A. Shay, chairman of Signature Bank, central banks and many governments are “subtle supporters of a cashless society as there are indeed costs to producing currency and coins.”

However, Shay points out that a cashless society would “give governments unprecedented access to information and power over citizens,” and that’s not something that most of us want. Indeed, the federal government already snoops on us and manipulates data in ways that arguably go against the Constitution. Although using cash during transactions may not shield you from surveillance or government oversight — don’t believe Hollywood; there are plenty of ways to track you even if you use cash — there is a certain level of implied privacy to using cash that Americans like.

In fact, we value our privacy so much that new technology, like Apple Pay and similar services, don’t appeal to many of us. Dubbed “digital wallets,” Apple Pay and the Samsung and Google alternatives allows you to hold your smartphone up to a payment terminal instead of swiping your card.

Despite the fact that they’re secure and easy to use, we don’t like them. As Tech Insider reports, only about one in five iPhone users have ever tried Apple Pay. Part of the reason for low adoption may be that a digital wallet doesn’t solve a problem. “Paying with a credit card is very easy,” said Rurik Bradbury, chief marketing officer of Trustev. “It’s a habit everyone has.”

There’s also concern over the data that is being collected when we use electronic payment systems. “Finding out the users’ spending habits is the last missing piece of information,” said Daniel Höfelmann of Credit Suisse Digital Private Banking. In light of this, experts predict those of us concerned with our personal privacy will pay in more traditional ways for as long as possible: with cash, credit or debit cards.

So will we go cashless in the America anytime soon? Probably not. We seem to appreciate the ease and convenience of PayPal, our debit cards and a little bit of cash, and we definitely prize our privacy. As with anything that transitions to an electronic platform, like books, if we do go cashless, it’s likely to be an evolutionary process.

What do you think about the possibility of living in a cashless society?

-Megan Winkler

Megan Winkler is an author, historian, Neurosculpting® meditation coach, certified nutritional consultant and DIY diva. When she’s not writing or teaching a class, Megan can be found in the water, on a yoga mat, learning a new instrument or singing karaoke. Her passion for a healthy mind-body-spirit relationship motivates her to explore all the natural world has to offer.



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