£72,000,000,000 - the estimated value of all notes and coins in circulation in the UK. This equates to around 31 billion pieces of metal, paper, and now plastic. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get rid of all of this? Cashless societies or economies have been talked about for many years and some countries are a bit further along the path than others. Just a few weeks ago the Indian Prime Minister urged businesses and citizens to embrace digital payments saying "We can gradually move from a less-cash society to a cashless society.”
One of the leaders in this is Sweden (of course) where only 2% of all payments use cash and over half of bank branches neither accept cash deposits nor give out cash to customers.
To see how far along this path the UK is I thought I’d try a little experiment, I wanted to see how far I could get without using cash for a week. Armed with my Mondo (now Monzo) card I set off. Here’s how it went:
My experiment started on a Sunday with a trip back up to London from Southampton. I needed to get to the train station. I check Uber and there’s no cars available but I know the local taxi company accepts cards, this should be easy. We get to the train station and I asked to pay by card, the driver huffed and groaned. We sat there for a good few minutes while the card machine booted up and I got charged an extra £1 for the pleasure. Not a good start I thought.
I was hoping the rest of the week would go a bit better, particularly as I was now in London, the FinTech capital of the world.
The first test on Monday was a lunchtime trip to a cafe now known between my colleague and I as the ‘crazy Italian’ simply as it’s utter chaos in there (but the food tastes great). Anyway, I order my sandwich and go to pay but of course they don’t accept cards. Luckily my colleague lent me a tenner (which I probably still owe, sorry). Again, not a great start to the week.
Tuesday was a rainy day so it was lunch in the office canteen, unfortunately. Here they do accept cards although there’s a £3.50 minimum spend. Not great I’ll take it.
After just a few days in I wasn’t feeling hopeful. Lunch for Wednesday was at a local bakery which amazingly accepted card payments - YAY!!! The day ended with an evening in Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. Getting their on the tube was super easy just using contactless at the station barriers but of course nowhere in Winter Wonderland accepted cards - it was a trip to find one of only a few cashpoints on the site.
By Thursday I was really not feeling great (and not because of a hangover) about the experiment. Only twice so far (baguette shop and tube) had I had a nice and easy cashless experience. The day consisted of various meetings around London, travelling via tubes and buses - again super easy with contactless. One of the meetings was in a nice little coffee shop, we order our drinks and then realise they don’t accept cards. Neither of us had cash so we had to go to Pret next door. I was getting really bored of this experiment by now.
Finally, the last day. It was straight to the pub after work where thankfully they welcome card payments. I don’t remember what happened the rest of the evening :)
So what I thought was going to be a nice, interesting experiment turned out to be pretty rubbish. I had high hopes for London’s small businesses. I mean it is 2016 in the financial capital of the world.
I learnt that week that we’ve got a long way to go before the UK becomes a cashless society. Oh well.