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“NO-CASH” The UK’s Leisure and Retail growing dilemma

Will we have a fully cashless economy at any time soon in the UK?

If the survival of cash is not a key feature of your businesses strategy in the gambling leisure and hospitality industries, please put it there quickly. Legislators, businesses and trade bodies should look at the impact, prioritise the risk and develop quicker strategies to adapt legislation to slow its quicker demise.

We have seen cash in leisure premises rise to as high as 70% during 2019/20. The COVID-19 distancing measures have, (like Heineken did back in the 90’s) “helped to refresh the parts of society that had not been cashless before”

So, will we see a much higher use of cashless as society gradually returns to no restrictions?

Some of the hospitality companies trading were reporting as high as 95% of their transactions being cashless, in the restricted trading period of last summer and before the current lockdown. Straight line projections before COVID suggested by 2026 cash will disappear in favour of e-payments. However, you would only assume that this is going to continue on an upwards spiral from May 2021 onwards, as more people have got used to “not carrying or using cash”.

For some, cash is still something used every day and for younger folk, cash has become more and more obsolete.

Cash and its future place, has become an ongoing debate,

Whilst it is impossible for cash to disappear fully just yet, it is still reducing as a payment type much quicker than we all anticipated and, the UK has no legislation that protects cash being preserved as a payment method. It is not against the law to refuse to take cash as a payment type? Whereas in the U.S. there are two pieces of legislation “The Cash Act and “The Payment Choices Act” both of these protect the consumer, under law, from a business, or a retailer not allowing cash as a payment type. This has slowed the pace at which America is adopting cashless payments, but they are still the 6th fastest growing cashless economy in the world with the UK third fastest. Many experts in the UK are now calling for similar regulations and incentives to ensure people can continue to get cashback in local shops and pay household bills in cash. I do recall the MONDEX experiment in Swindon during the nineties which, apart from being too early in the development of cashless, was a bit of a disaster overall and mainly because not all of the arguments for and against were thought through properly at the time.

So, if you’re a betting person (apart from betting responsibly) you wouldn’t bet on cash disappearing too soon, but it has certainly taken a bigger hit during the pandemic, which, has definitely changed consumer behaviours going into 2021. If you recall we saw lots of retailers and leisure premises refusing to accept cash due to the spread of COVID, despite there being no evidence to support its transmission via banknotes and coin? We will only know to what degree cash is less prominent, as society re-opens and retail businesses trade properly again.

If you take view of some of the positives for a significantly reduced cash society;

1. Electronic payments just travel and get tracked better than cash does, it’s cheaper, greener and it’s just a matter of time until all payments are electronic.

2. Following the success of the contactless increases during the pandemic the UK Government has just introduced the £100 contactless limit on debit cards. This more than doubles the current limit for a cashless transaction.

3. The heavy use of cash has been associated with Crime in the past and the elimination of cash may impact criminal activity and reduce the cash crime statistics.

4. With no cash in society, financial businesses can reduce staff costs associated with cash transactions. Electronic transactions have been self-administered and don’t need the supervision that cash does.

5. Cash doesn’t improve an individual’s credit score

Whilst I believe that we are heading for a significantly reduced cash payment society I don’t believe it will disappear in full, because it is discriminatory to do so for many reasons, some mentioned within this paper. Less cash will be used and much quicker than we realise and If this is the case, there are a few negatives to consider;

1. There are reported to be still around 8 million people (17% of population) in the UK who are reliant upon cash still. Many of these people are either in deprived areas, rural areas with poor broadband infrastructures and some of them don’t even have a bank account for many reasons.

2. It can create bad consumer spending habits as it is so easy to click, swipe, tap and transfer money for goods and services.

3. I.T Failures, identity theft, infrastructure failures, online frauds and intercepted payments are a few of the problems we have all seen. New crime has become more intelligent using code to trace and fraud companies and vulnerable individuals.

4. Cash definitely gives you more privacy than electronic payment methods do and the value that wealthy people place on their individual privacy will be a contributor to the survival of cash.

5. Cash was originally created to replace bartering for minerals or precious goods, so that taxes could be collected on the transactions. The power of bartering may rise once again if we lose too much cash from our portfolio trade of goods which could go undetected.

A couple of imminent issues that I see for the leisure and hospitality industry are;

1. Can trade bodies and businesses impact faster legislative changes in support of those operations that really need cash for their businesses to survive. Seaside arcades, high street arcades, pub amusement machines, casino’s, bingo clubs, working men’s clubs and sports clubs. All of these operations, through current legislation, are restricted from electronic payments for certain entertainment products. They are having to spend large sums of money creating ways to circumvent the legislation, which is out of date with consumer behaviour. Surely BREXIT can provide an opportunity for the UK to react quicker than it has previously been able to do so and trade bodies will need to divert attentions to this problem very quickly post COVID.

2. Hospitality & Restaurant staff depend upon tips to survive the poorer rates of pay that traditionally exist in the sector. With banks and merchant service organisations insisting on fees for their services being passed on to consumers, this may well result in lower pay to employees in the sector as the opportunity for tips reduces further. This will cost businesses money to counteract the trend, or it will make goods more expensive and arguments for tax breaks supporting employees “lower pay” may be more appealing to legislators than business tax breaks.

It’s no surprise to me that the UK is the 3rd biggest cashless economy in the world, with no legislation in place to protect cash, so we will get there ahead of other countries. In the short term, enjoy the benefits of cash but keep up to date with new payment methods because they are all designed to eliminate it further.

So, if the survival of cash is not a key feature of your businesses strategy in the gambling leisure and hospitality industries, please put it there quickly. Legislators, businesses and trade bodies should look at the impact, prioritise the risk and develop quicker strategies to adapt legislation to slow its quicker demise, as we are seeing.

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