Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer Content
Close Search

Can Digital Payments Be Kind?

can cashless be kind?

There is no doubt that the era of less (or minimal) cash is truly upon us. According to the Access to Cash Review, cash could fall to just 10 percent of all payments in the UK within the next 15 years.

Other countries, such as Sweden, have already seen significant changes – cashless payments have grown so quickly that only 10 percent of the 20 SEB banks in Stockholm now hold cash. Beyond Europe, China is leading the way with USD$12.8 trillion in mobile payment transactions in 2018.

Although many people are finding the shift from cash to paying with a card, phone or digital wallet is making their lives easier and more convenient, it does leave important gaps in payment infrastructure.


Backlash against the cashless society – a cashlash?

The shift towards cashless has led to a backlash of late. More than 8 million UK adults would struggle to cope in a cashless society, warns the Access to Cash Review. In the UK, a newspaper columnist called the cashless society a con and in the U.S., the New Jersey Legislature and the Philadelphia City Council both passed measures for stores that do not accept cash to face financial penalties. In Sweden, the Riksbank (central bank) has started to insist that all banks continue to support cash indefinitely. And last year China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, stated that all business outlets had to accept cash alongside cards and mobile payments.

When it comes to financial inclusion, keeping cash in circulation is the right thing to do in many circumstances, especially when we look at smaller more personal and emotive payments. For example, charitable donations, coins for a street busker, tipping a waiter – and, of course, for the unbanked or under-banked members of society.


Can we make digital payments kinder and more inclusive?

This leaves us with a tough question and a big challenge for the payments industry: How can we make digital payments kinder and more inclusive? How do we integrate those transactions traditionally made in cash into the digital world? In short, how can we ensure payments are kind in a world of less cash? To name just a few examples, where does less cash leave tipping, charity donations or those who rely on gifts – like the homeless?

These are not small considerations; the service sector for example accounts for more than 70 percent of the European Union’s output and jobs, and those working in restaurants, bars, coffee shops, hair and beauty salons etc. rely upon tips to supplement their wages. We all know that tipping cements a great customer experience – and we feel even better because we tipped. How do we maintain this infrastructure without cash?


Tipping as part of the in-app experience

Big tech companies like Uber and Starbucks already have built tipping into the app experience. Uber allows you to tip after services rendered, as a reward for a job well done. And Square Payments, popular across street food vendors and the like in the U.S., enables POS digital payment tipping. Square is on track to facilitate roughly one quarter billion dollars in tips annually in the United States, mostly at shops where customers would not have tipped before, or might have only tossed spare change into a jar. The challenge will be how to maintain the feel-good element of tipping in the new app-based tipping environment.


New ways to donate to charities and the homeless

With homelessness a rising problem in the UK, an ever-dwindling amount of loose change in our pockets is a massive problem for this group.

An Amsterdam-based company, N=5, is trying to come up with a solution with its Helping Heart Jacket for the Homeless. The jacket, which was piloted in Rotterdam and Amsterdam last year, is a warm winter coat that incorporates a payment reader and an LCD screen. Passers-by can make a card donation of a set €1 with one tap of their card. The donations can then be redeemed by the jacket wearer for food, shelter or other support through participating homeless shelters and organizations. The company is now working with other homeless charities and organizations all over the world to make the jacket available in different cities.

China has seen many homeless people sporting QR codes. But this also raises interesting and complex issues. In a report by the International Business Times, Chinese digital marketing firm China Channel claims that many beggars encountered in Beijing are actually being paid by local businesses and start-ups to promote QR codes and entice passers-by to scan them. The scans are then used to harvest user details from their WeChat IDs, which are then sold to small businesses for unsolicited advertisements.


How do we protect payments data in the kind, cashless era?

Some of these solutions do little to meet the immediate need of the homeless, who are unlikely to be carrying a contactless card reader, which costs anywhere between £30 and £150 in the UK.

And in the kind cashless era, how do we protect payments data? If faith in new schemes is lost early on, it will be hard to rebuild trust, particularly in the age of GDPR where we all are more conscious of the need for data privacy.

Charities face perhaps the biggest challenge, but are making the most progress. One and two pence coin donations in the UK make up over £300 million worth of charitable donations across the country and it is predicted that charities could lose up to £80 million in potential donations if they continue to rely on cash. Progress is being made with a variety of contactless pilot schemes, such as contactless donation boxes set to a certain donation level (e.g. £5). The Movember Foundation trialled contactless badges as a donation platform in 2018. But challenges remain with the cost of the infrastructure, as a single contactless donation box can cost £250, compared with a £2 collection bucket.


New services must be able to handle huge volumes and comply with new regulations to keep money and data secure

Policies to drive cashlessness and the use of technology can help increase financial inclusion, but the infrastructure and the desire to implement it is still required. In some parts of the world, the emergence of pre-paid cards and contactless is enabling new solutions, but there is still work to do to overcome this hurdle. Many developing markets, including countries in Africa, have fewer legacy systems to contend with and potentially provide a model for more mature markets.

New services must be able to handle huge volumes, comply with new regulations to keep money and data secure, and they must feel secure for authorization of transactions and total values. They must also offer a fast and seamless customer experience to mimic the convenience of cash.

To build solutions to these problems, there is a need to create strong infrastructure to handle the volumes, keep both money and data secure, and be as fast and efficient as dropping a few coins on a bill or in a donation box.


Silvia will be speaking about trends shaping the global payments industry at ACI Exchange, our premier annual customer conference, in Washington D.C., June 17-20. Register now to learn from ACI payment experts and discuss the current and future state of payments with peers.