Is Physical Money Becoming Completely Redundant?

On a recent trip to the Netherlands, I was quite shocked to learn that there are some establishments which really don’t deal in cash. I was trying to pay for a quick on-the-go lunch in what I’d really like to call a restaurant, but there was nobody sitting down to eat like people would do at a normal restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, it was a very busy “restaurant,” with lots of people coming and going. That’s how I was met with one of the most awkward moments in my life, when I whipped out some Euro notes to try and pay for my shawarma and coke combo meal and there was a subsequent delay with the growing queue behind me getting increasingly restless.

It’s not so much that they didn’t have change to give me, which they did I must disclose, but the sales staff manning the till-point didn’t seem to know how to open the cash register and they didn’t seem to know how to operate the point of sale system in relation to somebody paying cash for their goodies. I swear, they had to call out the manager and even she made me feel like I was really inconveniencing everybody by trying to pay with what really seemed like an archaic payment method – cash.

No matter, all ended well, but it got me thinking about what appears to be an ominously looming, very tangible reality of a world in which paper money is rendered completely obsolete. I don’t know if it’ll happen in my lifetime across the board, but certainly in some areas of the world it’s clearly already a reality. Look, you don’t have to tell me about the convenience of paying with a plastic card instead of carrying physical cash. I work in an industry where we’re responsible for the back-end processing of such transactions, so I know that it’s more convenient to pay without cash. The payment mechanisms which are more convenient than physical cash are growing in their numbers as well, with mobile phone payments and even biometric payments developing quite nicely, but I think all of these should be deployed alongside the cash option.

Trust me we definitely still need cash – something which I can attest to based on what I have to deal with on a daily basis, working in the financial industry.

Put yourself in the shoes of refugee for one second, who fled a war-torn country and subsequently doesn’t have any form of identification or any documents which legitimise their existence. Yes, I can see the person standing there in front of me, but the laws governing our industry don’t allow me to assist someone like that open up a bank account, simply because they just don’t have the requisite paperwork. It’ll be hard enough for them to get employment in the formal sector, let alone improve their financial situation through avenues which some of us take for granted, like opening up a savings and investment pocket in their non-existent bank account.

They can’t even get a bank account, so as long as such cases exist, there’ll perhaps always be a need for physical cash.

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Alison

Finance Blogger at Payday Jester
I have a passion for all things finance and business so if I can help you in anyway then please get in touch and if you have any comments or feedback please leave a message.

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