Going cashless in 2019

Craig Ramsey and Lu Zurawski from ACI Worldwide try and go cashless for a week.

Last December, the Bank of England challenged the general public to see if they could go cashless for an entire week. Understanding how we spend our money is crucial to keeping the financial system safe and fit for purpose, so having a public debate about the future of payments gives the Bank the information it needs to deliver such a system. Is going cashless possible? How would our lives change if we didn’t have cash? And how up to speed are the retail and leisure industries in offering cash alternatives? Craig Ramsey and Lu Zurawski at ACI Worldwide – which powers electronic payments for 5,100 organisations globally – give their experiences of a week without cash, offering insight into how our lives are impacted by the way we pay.

Craig Ramsey spent his week on a business trip in the US, gauging adoption of cashless payment options in a country that is perceived to be behind the curve when it comes to consumer banking. Lu was closer to home, seeing how family life could operate without cash.

Craig Ramsey, Head of Real-Time Payments

The challenge was simple. Could I go a week without using cash in the US? In the land of the free and the credit card? This would be easy.

I got off to a great start at the airport. With pre-paid car parking and no roads tolls to worry about, I could just park the car and head to the terminal. The flight to Chicago was uneventful and I needed a taxi at the other end, but Uber is incredibly convenient and so a quick tap on arrival and I soon had my driver. No cash required. Five stars for him! The hotel was without a concierge, so there was no awkward moment of me wrestling my bag away from them. And I was quickly able to meet colleagues for dinner and again pay with a credit card. I was right, day one had been easy.

It continued into day two. A quick online check-out meant no need to visit the hotel front-desk. Afterwards, another flight, this time to ACI Worldwide’s HQ in Florida. I had dinner during a layover, which was once again settled using my trusty credit card. Never mind having to avoid cash, I simply hadn’t needed any at any point.

Ahead of me I had several days of meetings at head office and it was on the second of those days that I hit a stumbling block. Searching for a vending machine I found one humming on the ground floor. But alas it only took cash! A cardless, contact-less, cash-only machine. And so I went without; I was not being defeated by a machine.

Later I decided to make up for it with a take-away. However, as I went to call the restaurant I realised the delivery person would expect a tip. I’d need cash. I had a Starbucks gift card in my bag, but I doubted very much that this would be welcome, so a take-away became a pick-up. It wasn’t far, but the lack of cash had been an inconvenience.

Now the weekend and I relocated to St Petersburg, Florida. A couple of hours drive would be easy with the tolls being automatically collected by the rental car agency. However, when I went out to dinner the only options for parking were paid. Would this be the moment of weakness with the use of cash? No, far from it as the machine had a credit card reader blinking at the bottom, with no worries of over-staying as they would simply take what they needed at the end of my stay.

The second week of my trip was much the same. The hotel was well set up, with the room bill, car park, restaurant and bar all happily accepting cards. The fact is that surviving without cash is a fairly easy thing to do. Sticking with the main hotels, the main restaurants and the main shops all meant that credit cards were welcome. It was only when I strayed off the beaten track that I needed cash.

Lu Zurawski, Consumer Payments Practice Lead

The week did not start well – my teenage son lost his wallet and cancelled his card. Unaware of his bank’s temporary card block facility, a temporary cash advance from parents was requested, requiring a visit to an ATM. I realised I would need to visit the ATM anyway; with an awards dinner scheduled, a quick check of my wardrobe reminded me I am not the same size I had been last time I wore my dinner jacket. My alterations tailor Mr Zeynep, based close to Old Street – a global centre of crypto-currency activity – could only take cash.

A treat for the kids was in order; they had been waiting ages for a supermarket visit. A trolley was needed but so was a pound coin to unlock the cart. Luckily the car ash trays proved a useful source of coinage, with the shop itself fully ApplePay compliant. Then to the local rugby club to watch England get short-changed by a video referee against New Zealand. The bar staff accepted Apple Pay without batting an eyelid.

On Saturday evening we had dinner with the family. No problem with card payment, mainly because Grandad had sneaked off to pay the whole bill. Minus the tip which he suggested we leave in cash as that is still the done thing – luckily my wife had some folding stuff.

Returning to London, I took the aging family car to a mechanic to fix parts currently held together by gaffer tape. On the journey home, it occurred to me that I had not checked how the mechanic wished to be paid. I fear that the offer of a 20% discount for cash may tempt me into another visit to the ATM later this week.

For regular, day-to-day spend, cashless seems more than possible. It’s the smaller things – the pound for the trolley, the local business – that make still having cash a requirement in today’s world.

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