Some see it in 2040, others 2025. Whatever the timeline, cash is on its way out.
In the UK, one ATM closes every two hours and 70% of transactions are digital. It'll soon reach 80%. For many of us, it's simply evolution: inevitable, logical. It smells a lot like progress.
But there's more going on than meets the eye as we tap towards a cashless society.
The Cashless Experience is Bouncepad's debut podcast and explores the topic from all angles: the obvious when and why, to the controversies around data and privacy.
We examine the impact on vulnerable groups, and tell a story about retailers who need to adapt or get left behind. We dig into the challenges facing banks now Google and Apple are on their turf - and do we really believe Facebook will simply sit on its banking license?
Through ex-banking leader, Maysam Rizvi, we list the practical realities of abandoning cash, including how cashless nations can continue ties with non-cashless ones. Also, bank accounts may have to become a human right for the sake of the UK's 1.6m unbanked.
As host Zach Priest explains, the transition to cashless won't just hurt those on the fringes. It's a deep-rooted psychological change to how we all live. Given Brits' poor levels of financial literacy as is, education is crucial if we're to keep spending in check once our physical connection to money disappears.
Peter Dore-Smith, Founder of London's award-winning Aussie coffee chain Kaffeine, says about 80% of his customers now pay digitally and his overheads are down. Contrary to scary headlines, Peter also says cashless is more effective in the fight against theft and fraud.
Describing the mechanics of the cashless journey, payment technologist Bashir Khairy confirms that data points, artificial intelligence and machine learning are reinforcing digital safety every day.
In different ways, Bashir and Peter are both banking on cashless. Yet both urge caution as we speed towards a cashless society at the expense of certain people and groups utterly reliant on hard currency.
For cashless to work, people need the tech, the know-how and a bank account. However, nearly 2bn people worldwide don't have the latter, and countless more struggle with the first two.
Exclusion is a huge issue for every wannabe cashless nation. In India, demonetisation is falling relatively flat because the majority simply aren't equipped. In China, despite arming homeless people with payment tech, the cashless push is faring only slightly better.
In Sweden, just 1% of GDP is exchanged in cash and half the country's banks refuse notes and coins. It might be Europe's capital of cashless and a progressive digital economy, but even the Swedes have been caught.
About ten years ago, Sweden began mothballing notes and coins as shops, public toilets, transport and services went digital in the name of cashless. The problem? The elderly, the poor and the disabled were shut out and left behind.
Image source: Time Out
Complications like this beg the question why are countries pushing for cashless? The answer is that it's much cheaper to run and, as cash turns to data, logging citizens' every beat becomes possible. These are both scenarios banks and governments like the sound of.
So herein lies the prickly anonymity/ data issue. And when you bundle that debate with concerns about marginalised groups then cashless appears much more loaded and complex than it seems.
These problems, however, tell just one side of the story. Sure, banks and government are pushing for cashless, but consumers are too. After all, people vote with their wallets.
Most customers have embraced cashless because, from all angles, it's quicker, easier and much more convenient. Beyond the immediate benefits, cashless could inspire new frontiers in customer experience and it may even be key to resuscitating high street retail.
That's the opinion of Jemima Bird – former Co-op Customer Director and independent retail expert – who says brands should invest now to grab a big opportunity.
Jemima, who today advises retail groups and tech start-ups in this very space, believes retailers will struggle if they fail to move tech to the heart of their business. She describes the joined-up and seamless experience customers expect and urged that brands tag in tech at the till so human agents can be redeployed to the front line of the customer journey.
In an era where bricks-and-mortar businesses are losing the battle against online, delivering a sharp and distinctive customer experience means brands can stand for something new; focusing on a human experience that online can't match.
In the data debate, Jemima says that customers, particularly younger shoppers, say they're prepared to give away their data if they're repaid with a better experience. She cites a survey claiming as many as 60% of us are happy to part with data so long as brands use it responsibly.
With that, we interviewed Bouncepad's own Lottie Hodson to get the customer's take. Lottie, who's 24, explained her cash vs cashless habits and laid out the experience she and her peers expect from brands and businesses. Handing over data, for Lottie, seems like a fair price to pay.
The Cashless Experience closes by urging retailers to think about being a part of the cashless transition. First, for reasons of survival. But second, cashless offers opportunities to get ahead in an era where doing so isn't easy.
According to both ex-banker Maysam and retail expert Jemima, cashless could be with us in five years.
But businesses don't have to wait for a government mandate before leaping into action. Brands who step in of their own volition to embrace the switchover to cashless can make big gains in customer experience and use the opportunity to set an example in inclusion.