Thoughts on a cashless society

By | 2014/09/05


Up until my late 30s, every wallet I ever owned had a pouch for coins. I’m not one of those guys who keeps my wallet in my back pocket – it’s always in a side-pocket, but even with that slight advantage, my wallets were always bulky and uncomfortable.

At some point I stopped buying wallets that carry coins – in fact, now, I actively avoid them. So coins I collect in the day will either go in a coin-slip in my trousers or float free in my pants or jeans until I get rid of them, either on the way home or when I get home. Unless I know I’m going to need to pay for parking somewhere, I never intentionally walk out of the house with coins in my pocket.

So that leaves me with cash and cards, and my preference is cards. After all, when you use cash, you often get coins.

The closest liberation from cash or coins I feel is PayWave – it’s become reasonably ubiquitous for smaller transactions, and is quite quick. Tap/Payment Acknowledged/Transaction Complete. It’s fast, and you don’t have to get any money out of your wallet.

NFR payment systems, or some variant, seem to be a coming wave – the next step seems to be translating that into an even more convenient process. The aim in many technical circles is transferring the NFR capability of a credit card into a Smart Phone, with the net goal being to ditch wallets entirely, simply making payments from our phones.

By all accounts, Apple themselves may finally be about to release something on this front next week, with rumours of deals with Visa, Mastercard and AMEX. Even if the rumours aren’t true, a decluttering of what we have to carry around with us when we leave home seems inevitable.

That decluttering will see less coins in wallets, less coins in pants, less cash on person.

I was walking to work this morning thinking about this coming cashless society, thinking how convenient it would become – that in the future, I’d no longer need to have a bowl or a jar to throw my coins in when I got home.

And then I walked past a reminder of where else my coins go and found myself realising how terrible this cashless society might be.

They say every time there’s a major technological advantage the lowest rungs in society lose out in some way. Factory workers continue to be displaced by increasingly sophisticated automation, for instance. But there’s a lower rung again, a group of people living far closer to the edge who depend on that spare change.

Think as you walk down the street next time and pass a homeless person sitting with a cup in front, hoping for the charity of random strangers. What will happen to them when there are no more coins?