Recent circumstances have once again brought around the subject of where cash fits in within our ever-growing digital ‘cashless’ world. Our news feeds are full of articles and stories about cash harbouring the virus and spreading the infection, but how much of the same is true for other payment methods?
A study carried out by Neeltje van Doremalen, a virologist at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the Sars-CoV-2 virus survives on cardboard – up to 24 hours – and up to 2-3 days on plastic. The findings suggest the virus might last this long on door handles, plastic-coated objects or laminated worktops and other hard surfaces. The researchers did find, however, that copper surfaces tended to kill the virus in about four hours.
Arguably, a card machine keypad, or self-scan equipment in supermarkets potentially poses the same, if not more of a risk. Although businesses will be ensuring cleanliness and hygiene rotas, how many people are touching the keypads or touchscreens in between those rotations? Shouldn’t cash just be counted as another communal surface, such as payment terminals, door handles and hand touchscreen surfaces in stores? Many banks across the world, from England to New Zealand, are not only preaching the importance of cash to our economy but also why any other payment method harbours the same risks as cash.
“Like any other surface that large numbers of people come into contact with, notes can carry bacteria or viruses. However, the risk posed by handling a polymer note is no greater than touching any other common surface, such as handrails, doorknobs or credit cards.” – Bank of England
The spread of the virus ultimately comes down to our behaviour towards hygiene. Although we can’t control which surfaces the virus spreads to, we can control our actions after handling cash, using payment terminals, or touching a door handle or handrail. Getting the virus on your hands doesn’t cause infection in itself, as it can’t infect us through our skin. If we continue to maintain cleanliness by washing our hands, using hand sanitiser and trying not to touch our face, mouth, nose or eyes after coming in to contact with surfaces, we can help prevent the spread.
The world of cash is still turning
So, what impact is the virus having on our cash economy? According to recent statistics, it’s a positive one. Demand for cash in the UK continues to rise, despite our country still being subject to lockdown. Since last week alone, the volume of banknotes in circulation increased by 1.1 million.
So, if the demand for cash is increasing, why are so many businesses refusing it as a payment method? Are consumers stockpiling cash, and does this mean a big boom for cash as lockdown begins to relax in the UK and across Europe? In different crises, cash has been our go-to payment method. When technology has failed, we fall back on cash. When the banks failed, we had people queuing outside of banks to get their hands on it
The recent push for consumers to use digital payments and not cash, not only pushes our economy into an age we just aren’t ready for but also isolates millions of people in the UK alone. A digital world might seem straight forward but for millions of others, life without cash would be almost impossible. Vulnerable consumers and smaller businesses are at risk of being disproportionately affected if cash disappears.
The Access to Cash Review highlighted that while cash usage is declining and will continue to do so, it’s an ‘economic necessity’ for around 25 million people (45% of the UK population), with 8 million saying they would find life ‘near impossible’ without it. These statistics are eye-opening and cut across demographics.
Cash is not just for older people, as 97% of us still carry cash. The importance of cash in our economy is really starting to be made clear, with larger consumer banks and businesses, such as Tesco Bank, Nationwide and The Post Office now offering cash delivery services for their customers.
With a fully cashless economy, there would be an increased risk of fraud, the potential for personal overspending, restricted access to money for those unable to participate in online and digital banking, and many more challenging issues for smaller businesses operating across the country.
Countries like Sweden and Norway have already shown the strain a cashless society can create on businesses.
“The limited availability of cash in Sweden has caused difficulties for smaller boutiques, shops, and convenience stores which depend on cash, as they can no longer deposit their daily takings or obtain any change. Non-profit organizations, which are very common in Sweden, have also experienced an outsized impact.”
There are so many positives for both consumers and businesses alike when using cash including no interest on payments, the simplicity of using cash (and not having to wait for the card machine), no credit card charges from banks, anonymity and inclusivity.