Is a cashless society on the cards and are we ready to ditch the readies?


As we walk into Covent Garden from our new offices, a sad reality strikes us. There is a noticeably higher proportion of people on the streets asking for money than in Shoreditch, where we used to hang out. It got us thinking about how many passers-by stop and give money and whether the homeless community has been affected by advancements in tech, as we now rely so heavily on contactless payments, rather than cash. 

More and more of us use our phones and smartwatches to pay for goods now, so are less likely to have coins rattling around in our pockets. This must be directly impacting on those who desperately need spare change for food or even a bed for the night. We imagine this is also affecting the likes of charity volunteers with their collecting tins and Big Issue sellers who simply do not have the means for you to tap your card or phone to donate.

It makes us wonder whether we will ever move to a purely cashless society and what it would involve in terms of cost and practicalities to establish this as the norm.

Is this something we want, or are we happy with things the way they are, allowing us to keep our options open and pay for stuff accordingly, depending on our means at the time?

That said, how many times do you get caught out when you suddenly need a couple of quid in actual cold hard cash now? Us too. 

Only recently, at a traditional family fun day, did we realise the playing field was packed full of exciting things for the kids to do that all required cash payment. Did we have even a fiver between us? Nope. Not a bean, because we have become so used to whipping our phones out to pay. Cue disappointed children sulking for the rest of the afternoon because they could not go on the helter skelter or the bungee trampolines. There was not even an ATM on site - big parent fail.

From our industry experience, we know larger scale events are much more geared up for this shift in consumer behaviour, so many now accept cashless payments at their pop up bars or food stalls. It certainly makes life simpler and gives you less to carry, especially if you are going out with the sole purpose of having a good time and have a tendency to mislay your purse or wallet.

We have all been there.

From a security point of view, a cashless world is a very sensible idea as there is no longer any need to wander the streets with sums of cash about your person.

Holidays are a prime example of a time you might have more money on you than usual and, since travellers cheques are now considered a little passé, being able to pay with a tap or a wave of your phone is so much safer. We did not even bother to change up any currency the last time we travelled to Europe, although did panic a bit at Barcelona airport when we remembered we might need some Euros for the taxi. We did, as it happens, but many taxi drivers are wising up to the modern world and now carry the required equipment to take your cashless payment.

Parking somewhere new can also be a dangerous game, as you can never be sure whether they will allow you to use an app to settle up the fees. The smaller or more rural the town or village, the more likely you are going to need the old-fashioned stuff but whether we are prepared for that is another matter. As the owners of Rocky, the super-energetic Cockapoo, we are always on the look out for new walks or places for him to explore. Having been caught without parking coins on more than one occasion, we have recently installed “ye olde bag o’change” in the car for such expeditions. Yes, this does make us feel very middle-aged, thanks for asking. We keep it next to the tin of dusty travel sweets.

These retro times aside, the move towards a cash-free society does seem to be rapid and inevitable.

There is no longer any shame in paying for a loaf of bread on your card, well unless your local convenience store imposes a minimum spend and then you end up with five quids’ worth of stuff you did not need. It would certainly take some getting used to for the generations who have only ever used cash or cheques and who, without making too general a statement, might not trust this new-fangled means of parting with money.

But then how would we have responded if, five years ago, someone had said you will soon be paying for a pint with your watch?

It is quite frankly mind-blowing and we are excited to see where technology takes us next.

Andrew Flett