The UK leads the way across Europe with 106.7 trillion euros in cashless payments during 2017. Germany comes in as the next biggest user of cashless payments transacted, with 55.8 trillion euros on cards*.

Back in 2006 the UK transacted £194,592 million on cards domestically and by 2017 that figure had climbed to £505, 390 million. International spend using cards has also increased over this period. Interestingly 91% of all public transport payments, 53% of food and drink and 49% of books, newspapers, magazine payments received in the UK are via contactless card. This trend is set to increase with more small businesses releasing the benefits of not handling cash.  

What does this move to a cashless society mean? As with all change there are advantages and concerns associated with this evolution to a cashless society. 

  1. Reduced business risks and cost. Physical money can be counterfeit, so moving to cards removes this risk, along with theft of cash. It should be noted that cards are still susceptible to fraud. Physical money also requires processing e.g. transporting, counting etc. which comes at a cost. 
  2. Better collection of economic data. Rather than conducting costly, periodic surveys sampling real-world transactions, real data collected on spending can assist in devising and implementing policies. With recorded financial transactions, governments can better track the movement of money through financial records to in turn track black money and illegal transactions taking place.
  3. Reduced criminal activity, using physical money. Lower volumes of high domination notes has an impact on organised crime and the funding of illegal activity. Electronic payments also provide a record of transactions. 
  4. Better budgeting. Tracking individual expenditure and recording the movement of money helps individuals budget more efficiently.

Moving to a fully cashless society requires concerns relating to privacy to be addressed.  Solutions also need to be put in place to address how the unbanked would survive in a society where physical money no longer exists, and some have concerns around the centralised control and subsequent misuse of data by governments and hackers.

*Merchant account and card payment fee comparison service Merchant Machine has carried out a study to look at the extent of these economic changes to find its true value in the world we live in.