Cashless society

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Estimated share of payments done by cashless methods (from studies published 2008-2013)[1][needs update]
Country %
Singapore 61
Netherlands 60
France 59
Sweden 59
Canada 57
Belgium 56
United Kingdom 52
United States 45
Australia 35
Germany 33
South Korea 29
Spain 16
Brazil 15
Japan 14
China 10
Taiwan 6
Italy 6
South Africa 6
Poland 5
Russia 4
Mexico 4
Greece 2
Colombia 2
India 2
Kenya 2
Thailand 2
Malaysia 2
Saudi Arabia 1
Peru 1
Egypt 1
Indonesia 0
Nigeria 0

A cashless society describes an economic state whereby financial transactions are not conducted with money in the form of physical banknotes or coins, but rather through the transfer of digital information (usually an electronic representation of money) between the transacting parties.[2] Cashless societies have existed from the time when human society came into existence, based on barter and other methods of exchange, and cashless transactions have also become possible in modern times using digital currencies such as bitcoin. However this article discusses and focuses on the term "cashless society" in the sense of a move towards, and implications of, a society where cash is replaced by its digital equivalent - in other words, legal tender (money) exists, is recorded, and is exchanged only in electronic digital form.

Such a concept has been discussed widely, particularly because the world is experiencing a rapid and increasing use of digital methods of recording, managing, and exchanging money in commerce, investment and daily life in many parts of the world, and transactions which would historically have been undertaken with cash are often now undertaken electronically.[3][4] Some countries now set limits on transactions and transaction values for which non-electronic payment may be legally used.[5]


The trend towards use of non-cash transactions and settlement began in daily life during the 1990s, when electronic banking became popular. By the 2010s digital payment methods were widespread in many countries, with examples including intermediaries such as PayPal, digital wallet systems operated by companies like Apple, contactless and NFC payments by electronic card or smartphone, and electronic bills and banking, all in widespread use.[4] By the 2010s cash had become actively disfavored in some kinds of transaction which would historically have been very ordinary to pay with physical tender, and larger cash amounts were in some situations treated with suspicion, due to its versatility and ease of use in money laundering and financing of terrorism, and actively prohibited by some suppliers and retailers,[6] to the point of coining the expression of a "war on cash".[7] By 2016 in the United Kingdom it was reported that 1 in 7 people no longer carries or uses cash.[8] The 2016 United States User Consumer Survey Study claims that 75% of respondents preferred a credit or debit card as their payment method while only 11% of respondents preferred cash.[9] By 2017, digital payment methods such as Venmo and Square contribute to cashless transactions. Venmo allows individuals to make direct payments to other individuals without having cash accessible. Square is an innovation that allows primarily small businesses to receive payments from their clients.


It has also been described as a highly controversial and at times a "sinister" or "creepy" move and as a concept connected to negative interest rates, banking transaction tax and a global taxation regime,[10][11][12] since such a move would be both potentially useful and potentially socially dangerous, with widespread implications for society. It has potential to be very helpful for central governments and economies, in the context of global negative inflation and quantitative easing, and central control of the money supply. However a loss of cash also transfers complete control of transactions, interest, and individual use of money, and information about these, to the nation state and third party providers, since the individual cannot avoid their money being held in an external system capable of regulation and control. Many countries have regulated, restricted, or banned private digital currencies such as Bitcoin. While supposedly helpful to the global economy and in fighting against crime and terrorism,[13] many concerns have been raised over "dangerous" unintended consequences.[14] It would mean that negative interest rates can be fully enforced, and money could be controlled in great detail. For example, some kinds of money might be set to "expire" and be worthless if not spent in specific ways or by specific times, or to devalue gradually. It also makes individual savings, and information about individual incomes and transactions, accessible to any party able to access the records - either legitimately (police and tax related) or not (hackers and persons with access to the relevant data), and in this way, it facilitates population surveillance.[15] It also means that groups, individuals, and causes could be deprived of cash by the simple expedient of preventing their access to cashless transaction media.[10] A cashless society is convenient and fast; however, it also increases ignorance to individual spending and vulnerability to fraud.[16] Consumers' ignorance to spending increases as they are less aware when swiping their card to complete a transaction than if they budgeted their money and paid in cash. Their vulnerability to fraud increases because corporations keep record of credit and debit card transactions, but they don't keep a record of cash transactions. The two main types of credit card fraud are when thieves attain the data manually or through a concealed automated program.[17]

Advantages of a cashless society[edit]

Efficient and convenient[edit]

Going digital, it helps to reduce the hassle of drawing cash or making sure that cash-in-hand is sufficient to make a payment in places where only cash payment is allowed. With a digitalized payment system, it speeds up the process of financial transaction and boosts the efficiency of the transaction. [18]

Increased transparency[edit]

As monetary transactions are being made electronically, it increases the transparency as financial transaction are recorded. The cashless system will assist a wide range of institutions and these includes:

Government bodies[edit]

Rather than conducting costly and periodic surveys and sampling of real-world transactions, real data collected on citizen’s spending can assist in devising and implementing policies that are deduced from actual data. With recorded financial transactions, Government can better track the movement of the money through financial records which enables them to track the black money and illegal transactions taking place in the country. [19]


Cashless payments would eliminate the fear of businesses receiving counterfeit money and flush out illegal cash. The risks of storing cash will also be reduced as payments are made digitally. [20]

Easier tracking[edit]

As digital payments are made, transactions are kept in records. Cashless payments facilitate the tracking of spending expenditure and record the movement of money. Having recorded transactions, it can help citizens to refine their budget more efficiently. [21]

Perils of a cashless society[edit]

The issue on privacy[edit]

In a digitized economy, payment made will be traceable. With traceable transactions, institutions would have potential access to this information. [22] With these digital traces left behind, digital transactions become vulnerable. Such transactions allow businesses a way to build a consumer’s personal profiles based on their spending patterns. The issue of data mining also come into place as countries head towards a cashless society. Cashless transactions leave a record in the database of the company as one make payment, and this information becomes a way for prediction of future events. Through large number of records, data mining then allows the organization to compile a profile of an individual through its' records in the database. [23]

Going all-digital, these data retrieved from transactions lead to widespread surveillance where individuals can be tracked by both the corporations and state. [24]

Exclusion of certain population[edit]

Implementing cashless system exclude the involvement of certain population such as the poor or near poor and the older generation. Heading towards a cashless society, citizens that does not hold the power or knowledge of engaging in digital transactions are left behind. To be able to transact using e-payment, it requires one to hold a bank account, which can hold their money. [25] Many of these impoverished people are underbanked. In America, almost one-third of the population lacked the full range of basic financial services. [26] According to FDIC data, among household that earn an annual income of less than $15,000 per year, almost 25.6% of the households do not have a bank account. [27]

For the older generation, especially retired seniors who are less familiarised with technology and digital applications, it will be hard for them to adopt the digital system. [28] One of such example would be Singapore. As a Smart Nation Initiative, Singapore has been moving towards a cashless system. In Singapore, there are at least half a million elderlies, aged 65 and above, and this accounts for 14.4 percent of the total population in Singapore. [29] Most seniors in Singapore still use cash as their only mode of payment and the integration of cashless payment creates a barrier for them. Not used to digitized payment methods, troubleshooting issues such as managing lost cards or passwords and managing their expenses can create potential troubles for these elderlies. [30]

Breaching/Hacking of the system[edit]

When payment transactions are stored in servers, it increases the risks of unauthorized breachers and hackers. [31] Financial cyber attacks and digital crime also form a greater risks when going cashless.[32] One of such example would be Forever 21, whom released a statement reporting the findings from their investigation of a payment card security incident. [33] In 2017, Forever 21 encountered a breached of their payment system by hackers for 7 months. As the encryption in some of their point-of-sale terminals were not on, it opened up their point-of-sales terminal to malware. The hackers obtain the network access and installed malware that allowed them to retrieve the card details of Forever 21’s consumers. Due to this invasion, the hackers obtained access to consumers’ payment card data for up to seven months - from 3 April 2017 to 18 November 2017. [34]

These open transactions also create the dangers and security issues where unauthorized access to users’ account occurs and funds are transferred to another account or unauthorized purchases are made by unknown user as they pose as the true user. [35]

Amount of cash in circulation[edit]

Even though cashless society is widely discussed most countries are increasing their currency supply. The table below is taken from the red books for members of the Bank for International Settlements, which includes most of the major fiat currencies of the world. Exceptions are South Africa whose supply of banknotes fluctuates wildly compared to most nations and Sweden which is drastically reducing its currency supply since 2007,[36] The values in the table are "per capita" so they already are scaled to population changes. But even the smallest increases of 3% per year are much higher than any possible GDP growth.

Banknotes and coin in circulation at end of year
Values are expressed in native currency and are total value per capita
Country Avg. year 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Turkey 12.1% 751 815 993 1,115 1,332
Korea 11.9% 975,301 1,084,361 1,259,466 1,483,891 1,711,506
Mexico 8.0% 7,017 7,270 7,802 8,934 10,303
India 7.9% ₹8,871 ₹9,696 ₹10,546 ₹11,431 ₹12,965
Brazil 6.0% R$825 R$941 R$1,016 R$1,091 R$1,103
Hong Kong SAR 6.0% 37,962 42,063 47,110 48,649 50,763
Singapore 5.5% 5,301 5,481 5,863 6,292 6,943
Saudi Arabia 5.4% 4,928 5,234 5,547 5,879 6,407
United States 5.1% $3,453 $3,725 $3,926 $4,218 $4,433
Switzerland 4.4% 7,401 8,091 8,495 8,622 9,169
Russia 3.8% ₽48,284 ₽53,598 ₽57,942 ₽61,523 ₽58,270
Euro Area 3.8% €2,721 €2,787 €2,913 €3,089 €3,280
Australia 3.8% $2,639 $2,739 $2,873 $2,999 $3,175
Canada 3.2% $1,937 $1,995 $2,058 $2,134 $2,271
Japan 3.2% ¥692,858 ¥715,452 ¥744,471 ¥769,088 ¥811,266
United Kingdom 3.2% £913 £948 £968 £1,019 £1,067
South Africa -3.7% R2,137 R3,021 R2,253 R2,521 R1,765
Sweden -6.9% 10,515kr 10,059kr 8,849kr 8,578kr 7,362kr

Cashless transactions vs reduced cash[edit]

A common measure of how close to a "cashless society" a country is becoming is some measure of the number of cashless payments or person to person transactions are done in that country. For instance the Nordic countries conduct more cashless transactions than most Europeans.

Across the 33 countries covered in the European Payment Cards Yearbook 2015-16, the average number of card payments per capita per year is 88.4. In comparison, the average Dane makes 268.6 card payments each year, the average Finn 243.6, the average Icelander 375.5, the average Norwegian 353.7 and the average Swede 270.2. This makes card payments in the Nordics two-and a-half to four times higher than the European average. [37]

But cash can also function as a "store of value" just like commodities like diamonds, gold, silver, and platinum or real estate and antiques. Levels of cash in circulation can widely differ among two countries with similar measure of cashless transactions. For example, Denmark has more than double the amount of cash in circulation as Sweden and a considerably higher percent in the largest denomination banknote, the 1000kr bill.

South Korea has made the decision to end coins as legal tender by 2020. So if you conduct an all cash transaction you must forego any change in amounts of less than the value of the smallest banknote, ₩1000, or slightly less than US$1. This change will undoubtedly greatly increase the number of electronic transactions in the country, but the wide circulation of the ₩50,000 bill, the largest denomination banknote, will mean that citizens can still easily use cash as a convenient store of value.

The largest denomination banknote of any currency is often associated with criminal activity, counterfeiting, or tax evasion. The United Kingdom declared only banknotes of 5 pounds or less were legal tender after WWII because of fear of Nazi counterfeiting. In 1969 in the USA the government declared that banknotes of value over $100 would remain legal tender, but any notes in government hands would be destroyed and that no new notes of those denominations would be printed in the future. Such notes were last printed in the USA in 1945. Canada did the same thing with the CAD$1000 banknote in the year 2000. Sweden printed 10,000kr banknotes in 1939 and 1958 but declared them invalid after 31 December 1991. Singapore has recently announced that they would no longer produce the SGD$10,000 banknote. The Euro Area has announced that the €500 denomination banknote would not be included in the next series of banknotes. The ECB has not announced if it intends to reduce the amount of cash in circulation, or to simply replace that value with smaller denominations.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Measuring progress toward a cashless society" (PDF). MasterCard. Retrieved 31 August 2017. 
  2. ^ "THE COST OF CASH IN THE UNITED STATES" (PDF). The Fletcher School Tufts University. p. 9. Retrieved 17 December 2016. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b UK moves towards cashless society
  5. ^ "". Retrieved 2017-01-27. 
  6. ^ A cashless society? Some retailers turn their noses up at currency
  7. ^ Negative Interest Rates and the War on Cash
  8. ^ Alex West (23 October 2016). "One in seven Brits no longer carries cash, as we become increasingly reliant on card and smartphone payments". The Sun. Retrieved 12 November 2016. 
  9. ^ "2016 User Consumer Study" (PDF). 
  10. ^ a b The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy
  11. ^ The Sinister Side of a Cashless Society
  12. ^ Banking Transaction Tax is a Dangerous Idea
  13. ^ The Sinister Side of Cash
  14. ^ What Happens When We Become A Cashless Society?
  15. ^ Economics Professor: Negative Interest Rates Aimed at Driving Small Banks Out of Business and Eliminating Cash
  16. ^ "Consumers' Attitude and Perception towards Doing Cashless Transactions: An Empirical Study in Vadodara". 
  17. ^ Lydia, Segal,; Benjamin, Ngugi,; Jafar, Mana, (2011). "Credit Card Fraud: A New Perspective On Tackling An Intransigent Problem". Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law. 16 (4). 
  18. ^ Auyong, Hawyee (4 September 2017). "Inclusivity the key to success of cashless drive". Today. Retrieved 10 April 2018. 
  19. ^ Poh, Joanne (17 October 2017). "Why is the Singapore Government So Adamant About Going Cashless". YahooFinance. Retrieved 10 April 2018. 
  20. ^ Sivabalan, Srinivasan (17 July 2017). "Going Cashless? Bad for Tax Cheats, Privacy, Poor". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 10 April 2018. 
  21. ^ Poh, Joanne (16 September 2017). "Ignoring this one point about a cashless society could have a huge impact on Singaporeans' finance". asiaone. Retrieved 10 April 2018. 
  22. ^ Frisby, Dominic (21 March 2016). "Why we should fear a cashless world". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 April 2018. 
  23. ^ Catherine, Downey (1996). "The High Price of a Cashless Society: Exchanging Privacy Rights for Digital Cash, 14J. Marshall J. Computer & Info. L. 303 (1996)". 
  24. ^ O'Dwyer, Rachel (2018). Gloerich, Inte; Lovink, Geert; De Vries, Paricia, eds. MoneyLab, Overcoming the Hype. Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam. p. 151. 
  25. ^ Ng, Nicole (22 September 2017). "Going Cashless: Who's Left Behind". Dollars And Sense. Retrieved 8 April 2018. 
  26. ^ Sivy, Michael (20 November 2012). "Why So Many Americans Don't have Bank Accounts". TIME. Retrieved 8 April 2018. 
  27. ^ Burhouse, Susan; Chu, Karyen (20 October 2016). "2011 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households" (PDF). Retrieved 8 April 2018. 
  28. ^ Sim, Joachim (31 August 2017). "Going cashless in phases will help elderly". The Straits Times. Retrieved 8 April 2018. 
  29. ^ Toh, Elgin (28 September 2017). "Singapore ageing at faster pace than a decade ago". The Straits Times. Retrieved 8 April 2018. 
  30. ^ Mokhtar, Faris (28 August 2017). "Govt will seek to ensure no one is left behind in cashless drive". Today. Retrieved 8 April 2018. 
  31. ^ Domagoj, Sajter (2011). "Privacy, Identity, and the Perils of the Cashless Society" (PDF). 
  32. ^ O'Dwyer, Rachel (2018). Gloerich, Inte; Lovink, Geert; De Vries, Paricia, eds. MoneyLab, Overcoming the Hype. Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam. p. 151. 
  33. ^ "Forever 21 Reports Findings from Investigation of Payment Security Incident". Retrieved 10 April 2018. 
  34. ^ Smith (1 December 2018). "Forever 21: Hackers breached payment system for 7 months". CSO. Retrieved 10 April 2018. 
  35. ^ Catherine, Downey (1996). "The High Price of a Cashless Society: Exchanging Privacy Rights for Digital Cash, 14J. Marshall J. Computer & Info. L. 303 (1996)". 
  36. ^
  37. ^

[1], IFoA, 2017