Cash isn’t dead..and unlikely to be either

Cash isn’t dead..and unlikely to be either

My first post in this focussed on a survey from the US which suggested that cash would be dead in the US within a generation. And as my blog points out, that is highly unlikely for many other reasons, not least because millions of US citizens can only use cash currently.

This second post was triggered by a report hosted on LINK’s website, (the UK ATM operator) that had some interesting numbers in it. Some of the data was incorrectly reported in places as signifying the death of cash in the UK. To be clear, that isn’t what LINK or the report claim.

I think we need to step back from the figures first, and see what they’re actually saying.

By volume, cash represents 45% of all transactions in the UK. That is a significant shift, in a relatively short period of time – indeed, a drop of 6% last year, around 1 billion transactions lower than in 2014. This is what caught the eye of many people, and why they made their predictions.

But let’s look at the figure another way – at 17 billion transactions, that’s both more than nearly all the other payment types added together, and 70% more than the payment type with the second highest usage (debit cards).

That's not to say we shouldn’t dismiss the changes. In 2005, cash accounted for 64% of transactions by volume. By 2015 that had dropped to 45%; by 2025, the forecasts suggests just 27%. I think that's a triffle low, but we're only differing by a percentage point or two.

However, we still have to put that number in context. With a forecast drop of over 1/3rd over the coming decade, it would still leave the volume of cash transactions with a greater combined total of Faster Payments, CHAPS, Direct Debit and Direct Credit that we see today. It's therefore as much that the other payment types are growing as payment types falling.

Once you scratch below the surface, it becomes clearer.

One concept I have talked about in my reports  Noncash Payments: Global Trends and Forecasts, 2014 Edition is that of payment occasions and payment frequency. The occasion is why you make the payment – utility bill, mortagage payment etc – and the frequency you make it.

One of the reasons for the large decline in share of payments has been in the growth of contactless payments, and in particular, their usage for the London Transport system. This is a good example of how occasion and frequency make an impact. Until recently, most commuters in London would use an Oyster card, with cash rarely used (and indeed, banned on many buses). This took a large volume of cash transactions out of the mix – previously that saw 2 transactions a day, times every day commute, equalling approximately 550 cash transactions a year.

With Oyster, that became a card transaction to top up the balance on the oyster card, rather than a per journey transaction. Even estimating topping up once a week (more likely to be monthly I would imagine), that’s 52 transactions a year maximum.

The difference today is that many people now use their contactless debit cards instead of an Oyster card, resulting in a card payment every day – so from 52, to more than 200 a year.

The net result is cash usage drops significantly, with a corresponding smaller increase in card volumes, followed by a larger increase in card volumes. Yet still just one payment occasion.

The point in highlighting this? Reducing cash will have to be done on an occasion by occasion basis. There are some big wins out there – even just making all transportation cashless for example – but the challenge is that there is a very long tail of occasions that rely on cash.

The second challenge is whether the Government even allows cash to die. The case for removing cheques is much easier to make, and far easier to do, yet the Government has told the industry that it can’t. On that basis, it’s difficult to see under what circumstances that the Government would ever allow even a discussion about cash retirement.

Cash lives. Long live cash.

Cash may no longer be King, but…

Cash may no longer be King, but…
Lest there be any thought about cash going away, use of cash in the US continues to increase despite the rapid growth in the use of electronic payments. The Federal Reserve reports the dollar amount of currency in circulation has grown 88% in the past 10 years to US$770 billion in 2007 and US$889 billion in late 2008. Meanwhile, the amount of cash ordered and deposited through Federal Reserve Banks has increased 75%, to over 27 billion banknotes annually. This trend may seem reasonable in light of the US economic and population growth over the period. For perspective, per capita cash in circulation grew from US$183 in 1985 to US$2,537 in 2005 based on US Bureau of Census population estimates, or at a rate of 6% CAGR – well above the 4.2% inflation over the period. Cash usage is growing – absolutely. Meanwhile, cash usage at traditional point of sale locations has been remarkably steady alongside the dramatic growth in debit card usage. As a percentage of POS mix, cash declined from 39% in 1999 to 29% in 2008 according to recurring research by Hitachi Consulting. The data suggests debit card growth has primarily come at the expense of check usage at point of sale which has dropped from 18% to 8% over the period. There appear to be two dynamics at work. The first is our stubborn affinity for cash payments. Immigration trends as well as grey market economic activity also contribute to the sustaining popularity of cash payments for obvious reasons. Another factor has been the worsening economic conditions of late. 2008 has seen a return to an 8% CAGR of cash in circulation. The fourth quarter alone witnessed a 5.4% growth corresponding to US$45 billion in additional cash in circulation. This suggests the worsening recession impacted holiday spending, reversing the long-term trend favoring credit and debit card usage at point-of-sale. On top of that, there is clear evidence of cash hoarding as seen by the significant rise in the number of high value notes in circulation. Celent expects cash in circulation to peak in the next two years. So in addition to investments in alternative payment mechanisms, Celent encourages banks to revisit their cash logistics management systems. In many banks, there may be significant opportunity for cost savings. On the product side, a growing number of banks are being rewarded for their support of remote cash capture solutions. Remote cash capture will be the topic of a forthcoming Celent report.