A report by the RSA has found that despite the pandemic hastening digital adoption, 10 million people would still struggle to cope in a cashless society, while for millions more, it would be a major inconvenience.
The RSA’s Cash Census report was published earlier this year. It explores the use of cash in an increasingly digital economy, with the aim of understanding the gap between those who reject cash and those who hold on to it.
The report shows that three years on from the 2019 Access to Cash Review, the section of society that would feel left behind in a cashless society remains almost identical.
It found that while 20% of people prefer to be cashless and 25% of bank and building society branches have closed over the last five years, the majority still use cash with 96% of people still withdrawing it at some frequency.
- One in five people (19% of the population, 10 million people) say they would struggle to cope in a cashless society.
- Fifteen million people (29% of the population) say they could cope but it would be a major inconvenience.
- Almost half the population (25 million people) say that it would be problematic for them if there was no cash in society as they know it.
- More than a quarter (15 million people) of the population use cash for budgeting.
- 8 million people (15% of the population) were using cash more because of the pandemic.
- Two-thirds of the population (64%) are concerned about fraud when making digital payments.
Based on its findings, the report warns that that forcing people on to digital could lead to more people losing control over their finances and spiralling debts. Rural communities and vulnerable citizens in particular would struggle to access cash, while a cashless society could also result in increased isolation and reduced human connection, and mistrust in the system due to concerns over fraud, cybercrime, and technology system failures.
As such, the report makes a series of recommendations. These include keeping cash infrastructure viable, in part by protecting access through legislation; maintaining cash acceptance, in part by ensuring essential services such as school dinners, council tax and utilities can still be paid for with cash (either directly or through a partner); and supporting people with digital inclusion, such as by teaching digital skills at school, and through banks and community spaces.
The full report can be downloaded from the RSA site.