PAY360: acceptance is key to cash remaining viable


Largely fuelled by the pandemic and the digitalisation of many financial products, society’s relationship with cash is evolving at a rapid rate. 

With a bill being debated a matter of miles away in Parliament over the acceptance of cash, the panel session at this year’s PAY360 entitled ‘Should cashless retail be illegal?’ couldn’t have been more pertinent.

The perspectives offered by the speakers led to many in the audience admitting they had altered their perspective on the role of cash, specifically the fact that it enables the most vulnerable to continue to function.

Vikki Brownridge, Director of Operations at Stepchange, commenced the discussion by quashing the rumour that cash usage is generational, saying that many people she works with utilise it in order to avoid going into their overdraft or overspending from their budget. 

She was joined by Natalie Ceeney, the Chair of Access to Cash, who highlighted that whilst digital payment has obvious benefits, it simply doesn’t work for many – adding that there’s a sizeable portion of the population that relies on cash and that isn’t going to go away anytime soon. 

Ceeney also looked at it from the scope of retailers, warning that it’s vital to understand how to differentiate between big corporate retailers and small retailers when analysing why cash usage is a less alluring prospect.

The most notable hindrance for smaller businesses, according to Ceeney, is the process of banking cash – in contrast to digital transactions, which are the most significant driver in why SMEs want to embrace the cashless payment journey.

Brownridge added that it is essential for bigger retailers to accept cash in order for the most vulnerable customers to maintain access to essential goods. 

Ceeney also explored the geographical variations within the embracing of a cashless economy, with lack of connectivity being at the heart of why rural regions are slower in welcoming digitalisation, while also raising the salient point that acceptance is key to cash being viable. 

In terms of international trends, she continued, tech adoption normally complements the growth of the digital economy, specifically citing the Nordics as being a leader in embracing tech and boasting a thriving digital economy. 

What halts the growth of digital payments in regions however is exclusion, which Ceeney believes can be combated with tools that are already available. 

Additionally, she stated that pretty major resilience questions remain, even if everyone could be included in the digital economy, highlighting the Bank of England may well not even let it pass if it is viewed as a risk to cyber attacks.

The emergence of CBDCs holds barriers that mirror that of digital payments, specifically when it comes to inclusivity and access to tech. 

Looking ahead she predicted that legislation for the protection of cash is on its way, and it will place an obligation on retail banks to provide suitable access to cash access and deposit services. 

Furthermore, she revealed that the government has steered clear of cash acceptance being part of the legislation, however, a motion from Labour has been tabled for this to be included and has been boosted by widespread support. 

Brownridge stated her belief that cash is here to stay for a long time, but that it’s also vital that as digital growth continues, the most vulnerable in society are able to engage with it unobstructed.. 

She also noted that the cost of keeping cash viable for a small minority of the population is too expensive, and will lead to significant changes in the UK’s financial infrastructure.