Take a look inside your wallet, and the chances are you have less cash in it than you would have carried around a year ago. It’s also likely that you are withdrawing cash from an ATM less frequently too.
 
Figures released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) this year show that 2016 was the first year that more than half of all purchases were made by card. It’s safe to conclude that ten years following their introduction, contactless cards have gained the public’s trust, having been widely adopted by retailers. The BRC’s report found that 68% of payment terminals now accept contactless payments, well up from 47% the previous year.
 
The attraction for retailers is clear. Paying with cash can be a pain-point for consumers who wince at the thought of handing over their hard-earned dough. Casinos cleverly realised this problem a long time ago, converting cash into chips to encourage people to put more money on the table – and it worked.
 
Whilst we are still some way from becoming a cashless society, the latest numbers do indicate that we have reached an important milestone. From this point on, it is likely that cash usage will fall at an increasing rate, much like it has in Sweden where cash purchases are at a miniscule 1%. This should be a warning shot to the nearly half of small business owners who believe they do not miss out on sales if they do not accept cards – a very short-sighted belief given that one in two consumers say they would walk away if cashless payments are not available.
 
But there is a worrying trend for consumers too. The Bank of England’s June Financial Stability report even made a brief mention that contactless cards were a contributor to rising consumer borrowing as they “encouraged greater credit card use.” Likewise, charities are losing tens of millions of pounds due to the cashless economy, whereas those working in service roles reliant upon the top-ups they get from customers may see their tips go into rapid decline.
 
These are serious issues and where relevant, businesses will need to protect not just their own future, but also those less well-off who currently rely on cash. Restaurant chains, for example, will need to provide clear and accountable ways in which their service staff can receive card-based tips from customers; while charities are already looking at upgrading the old collection buckets to ‘tap and go’ payment pads.

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