Consumers Stubbornly Cling to Cash, after Multiple IT Fiascos & Payment Systems Outages

An industry dogged by non-believers who fret about privacy and fraud. 

By Don Quijones, Spain, UK, & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.

The last month has been an unhappy time for daydreamers of a cashless nirvana. Following weeks of disruptive tech failures, payment outages, and escalating cyber fraud scams, much of it taking place in Britain, consumers have been reminded of one of the great benefits of physical cash: it is accepted just about everywhere and does not suddenly fail on you.

The findings of a new study by UK-based online payments company Paysafe, partly owned by US private equity giant Blackstone, confirm that consumers on both sides of the Atlantic continue to cling to physical lucre.

For its Lost in Transaction report, Paysafe surveyed over 5,000 consumers in the UK, Canada, the US, Germany, and Austria on their payment habits. One of its main findings is that 87% of consumers used cash to make purchases in the last month, while 83% visited ATMs, and 41% are not interested in even hearing about cash alternatives.

“Despite the apparent benefits of low-friction payment technologies, these findings suggest many consumers aren’t ready to lose visibility of the payment process,” says Paysafe Group Chief Marketing Officer Oscar Nieboer. “It’s clear that the benefits are not unilaterally agreed upon, with cultural and infrastructure trends at play, and it may be some time before adoption is widespread.”

Although consumers continue to cling to cash, they appear to be carrying less of it: 49% overall in the survey and 55% of U.S. respondents said they carry less cash now than they did a year ago. The average American consumer carries $42 today — that’s $8 less than in 2017. In the UK the average amount carried in 2017 was £33; that has now fallen to £21.

But that does not mean that the amount of cash in circulation is dwindling. On the contrary, according to this year’s G4S cash report, the world average ratio of currency vs GDP continues to rise, reaching 9.6% in 2018. “Currency in Circulation vs. GDP is increasing on all continents, indicating a consistent, growing demand for cash across the world,” says the report. South America has by far the highest cash dependency relative to its GDP, with an average ratio of over 16%.

The study also reveals that in 17 out of 24 advanced economies studied, cash represents more than 50% of all payment transactions. Data drawn from the ECB’s Diary Study shows that in Europe cash represents 79% of all transactions in volume and 54% in value.

That’s not to say that alternative payment methods — debit and credit cards and other forms of electronic payment — are not growing in use. In the UK contactless shopping is the most popular payment alternative, with 54% of consumers using it in the last month – compared to just 3% of US shoppers. It was largely thanks to this predilection for contactless cards, coupled with the reduced use of cash, that UK consumers were much more severely affected by the recent 12-hour outage of visa payment services in Western Europe.

Most consumers are still loath to use so-called “frictionless” payments — i.e. invisible transactions that take place ‘behind the scenes’ in apps — for in-store purchases. While 50% of respondents to the Paysafe survey said they had used a digital wallet such as Skrill or NETELLER for online purchases, just 9% of them currently use one for shopping in-store. Only 23% of consumers reported using frictionless payments in apps such as Uber, while 65% think voice-activated systems are not secure.

The two biggest concerns consumers have with mobile payments are privacy and fraud. “Closer examination of the reasons for this low and slow adoption of frictionless payments shows that, once again, fraud is the most widely mentioned barrier, cited by 50% of respondents,” the study said. “But data security is also a major concern, expressed by 48% of respondents.”

Given the number of recent scares, it’s a justifiable concern. Shoppers in Canada and the UK, two of the world’s most cashless economies, reported a rise in fraud in 2017, of 7% and 6% respectively. It’s a reminder that the more consumers come to rely on technological solutions in the payment sphere, the more exposed they become to the attentions of highly sophisticated cyber criminals.

In Mexico, a haven for the black market of stolen data, reports of data theft have mushroomed by 25% last year, yet the country’s government and banks are determined to plow ahead with plans to harvest — and store — the biometric data of all bank customers.

A recent survey from international law firm Osborne Clarke showed that 79% of the 2,000 people surveyed said they worry they would be sharing too much data if cash were entirely replaced by mobile payments. Respondents to the Paysafe survey also expressed concerns about being charged for things they didn’t buy (47%), losing control of their spending (31%), or making inadvertent purchases (28%).

The message is clear: for the moment, most consumers are unwilling to accept a wholly cashless economy. And their reservations may have grown in recent weeks, following the outage of Visa services in Europe, which left millions of customers across the region unable to make payments using their cards. In a statement, Visa said the problem was caused by a “hardware failure”, which hardly inspires confidence it could never happen again.

Until a cashless system can be created that is 100% safe from the threats posed by natural disasters, accidents, cyber criminals and basic human incompetence, consumers in most countries, including even less-cash economies like Sweden, the UK and Canada, would prefer to hold on to their grubby notes and coins. By Don Quijones.

A virtual paradise for real bank heists. Read…  Globalized Digital Bank Robbers Feast on Latin America

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  53 comments for “Consumers Stubbornly Cling to Cash, after Multiple IT Fiascos & Payment Systems Outages

  1. alicat says:

    Only a numskull would put full faith in an electronic system owned by, of all companies, Blackstone.

    But, a fool and his fiat currency is soon….

    That said, I weep for these lost generations.

    • Robert_D says:

      Your comment : “Only a numb-skull would put full faith in an electronic system owned by, of all companies, Blackstone.”

      And perhaps only a numb-skull would put any faith in Bitcoin, (1) owned by no-one (some see that as a plus, I do get that) (2) already fraudulently penetrated NUMEROUS times, (3) guaranteed by no-one, and (4) fully subject to large internet outages, not yet seen but presaged by electrical system outages.

      Not to mention large-scale government regulation and opposition, as yet unseen.

      FIAT is severely, and perhaps fatally flawed. Maybe.

      But there is a reason for the “cash in hand” truism being readily understood worldwide.

      People that place ready faith in nouveau institutions can be subjected to fearsome losses and failures, until what is new matures.

      So many untried financial instruments, “untried” w.r.t. systemic failures. Sure to come, always. The trials, that is.

      • Rates says:

        Don’t waste your breath. You have to allow the Millennial Falcon to soar and crash and even then they would move on to turning Murica into a fully socialist economy.

      • MCH says:

        Oh man, stop talking so dirty. Bitcoin is not down with all that.

        But the fundamental weakness of all forms of electronic payment is their reliance on the one thing that cash holders couldn’t care less about. I keep at least some cash around at all times because living in SF, if and when the next earthquake hits, having cash means that I can at least buy bread and water when everyone else is frantic with their Apple Pay and credit cards when electricity is nonexistent.

        • Robert_D says:

          And when, as you say, “the electricity is nonexistent” , the bitcoins will be available . Exactly how?

          Cash requires no functional external system to fulfill its raison d’être — except — of course, civilization. And once that is gone . . . .

    • Caliban says:

      No digital system is secure from hacking unless maybe protected by NSA-level encryption. There is also social engineering-enabled exfiltration of data to deal with.

      Plus, the systems can fail due to all sorts of causes including Coronal Mass Ejections. A Carrington-like event would cause at a minimum continent-wide disruptions if not total failures.

  2. cdr says:

    The official enthusiasm for going cashless was to support negative rates, NIRP, so that cash could not be hidden by those who had NIRP forced upon them. Shadow lending becomes impossible without official support. Capital gets destroyed as official policy.

    The change of management at the Fed and the change of philosophy dumping the globalists in the US ruined the concept of a cashless society overall. We dodged NIRP by an inch. Negative rates work only if everyone does them. Now, going cashless is just a weird idea that some countries do or want to do.

    • Argus says:

      I would like to believe that governments/banks have given up on it but don’t quite trust that. A cashless society gives them too much scope for control (and don’t they love that?), for invasion of privacy, and for skimming off profits, whether it be by fees of potential transaction taxation.

      • cdr says:

        The EU would love going cashless but it won’t happen. The world wide NIRP train has left the station and all those not on it won’t see another NIRP train any time soon. That ship has sailed. Those who committed to NIRP have a hell to face sooner or later. A Serious Hell. No NIRP, no massive support for going cashless. NIRP but no cashless … no soft landing.

        Now, going cashless, from a govt point of view, is like wide bell bottom pants in the 1990’s … out of style, weird, and sort of nuts.

  3. raxadian says:

    Don Quijones, Cash itseft is NOT safe from the threats posed by natural disasters, accidents, cyber criminals and basic human incompetence. Also cash is way easier to steal.

    How can xyber criminals steal real cash? Simple, ATM hacking, data mining so they can yo to your house while you are not there and so on.

    Debit carsa do tend to get a pass, in a lot of countries debit cards are rising in popularity. It helps they are way cheaper for consumers than credit cards, and stores and so on also get paid faster.

    Also during the Visa crisus ATMs still worked, so debit cards was a way to get cash.

    • Rates says:

      Don’t think the article is about safety ……….. Don Q made that point in the end to emphasize the necessary features required for people to give up cash and go fully electronic.

      “in a lot of countries debit cards are rising in popularity”, please cite where these countries are so that we can judge whether they matter. In China, people use mobile payments almost exclusively. Credit card is considered passe. Debit cards? What’s that?

    • Robert_D says:

      Real cash, Andrew Jacksons, U S Grants and Ben Franklins can be easily secured — WELL SECURED — by anyone with an intellect who can use any of the many techniques currently available. And I DO NOT mean safe deposit boxes or a safe in the home.

      Midnight Gardening is my preferred method, and I have many dissimilar methods that would be impossible to locate. Impossible.

      I live on a high hill composed of rocky ledge —
      neither of a thief, or a natural disaster, will ever disturb my buried and waterproof stash.

      You gotta give people credit before issuing blanket statements that cash is not safe from thieves and natural disasters and the like. People like me will never tell you how we do what we do, but we do it very well indeed.

      • JMiller says:

        Sorry but you are wrong. Your cash and precious metals are not safe (completely free of any risk of loss) no matter where and how you hide them.

        • paul says:

          You are correct. You can only do things to reduce risk, not completely eliminate it.

        • Robert_D says:

          By definition, NOTHING is risk free so you are correct. So, to be precise, I have been talking abut lower, much lower, risk in a purely relative sense.

          My stored cash depends on no external system (except civilization) to operate, and I can keep it 99.99% safe. Such a tiny quibble.

        • JMiller says:

          Also the safety of your money depends on who else knows that you have it and on your own health, both physically and mentally. You say no thief will ever disturb your buried and waterproof stash. So I take it that no one knows about it other than you. If that is the case then you better hope that you remain in good physical and mental health so you will be able to remember it and where you hide it and to be able to get to it when and if you ever need it.

        • Robert_D says:

          Your further comment starts thusly: “Also the safety of your money depends on who else knows that you have it and on your own health, both physically and mentally. . . . ”

          Do you seriously think that a person with the wherewithal, time, energy and intellect to create a substantial and safe “storage” site — would not think of ALL OF THESE THINGS ?

          You, who does none of any of this, are being preachy to one who actually does it. Really ?

        • JMiller says:

          How do you know whether or not I do any of this? You don’t. Just bringing some things up that maybe you did not think about since you mistakenly think your storage site is “safe”.

      • Lion says:

        Read that FDR enacted law where government can; “under current federal law, gold bullion can be confiscated by the federal government in times of national crisis”

        So not completely convinced that gold it fully safe from the hands of the Fed.

        • Cynic says:

          Government confiscation of gold is not the main risk.

          In a disturbed society, gold is the most dangerous possession: hard to cash-in safely, and professional criminals will not hesitate to kill you for it.

          Anyone familiar with Latin America knows this,and for the life of me I cannot understand why people cannot see this – not hard to work out.

  4. Tang says:

    Bitcoin. Bitcoin exchanges. You know who are the operaters behind? They’re just websites right? You know web page building techniques? You know the ease to make changes to display information on those sites at the split of a second?
    Who is buying and selling at any point of time? Who knows? At what price and quantities that would influence price fluctuations? The display information each time has nothing to do with the buying and selling. Fictitious settings are carried out each time. Where a sudden aberration happens immediately cease the function of the website claiming site being hacked. Who knows accept those behind.

  5. andy says:

    I have the whole two bucks at the moment.
    Anyone owns Tesla? Can you charge it up using cash outside of home?

  6. Michael Francis says:

    The test of value.

    Five people walk through a park.
    One is carrying $10k on a credit card, another is carrying $10k worth of bitcoin on their Iphone. Another has $10k of Apple share certificates another $10k of bond certificates and another $10k of cash.

    Who’s the most likely to get mugged then robbed. That’s the test of value.

    • peter says:

      The guy with the iPhone I guess! After all, $10 isn’t much nowadays but a nice shiny iPhone for the Mrs…….? And then the credit card so it can be cloned.

    • polecat says:

      Ah .. the game is to choose a safer ‘venue’ …
      There IS this thing called common sense, but many refuse to use it, in whatever situation !

    • Cynic says:

      The muggers in London more or less gave up on street crime after credit cards became general and people stopped carrying cash.

      It was pretty terrible in some boroughs in the late 1960’s to early 1980’s.

      They moved to the drug trade and shop-lifting.

      Now that clever Asians and Nigerians, etc, have set up international trading networks, they are back on the streets stealing i-phones for re-sale in Africa, using scooters for a quick getaway.

      Easy theft, easy to cash in. Huge problem.

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      “Who’s the most likely to get mugged then robbed. That’s the test of value.”

      Correct answer: All of them. If you are going to commit a felony you might as well go whole hog…….

    • JB says:

      Each potential victim has a 1 in 5 chance of being robbed. also
      large of amounts cash can be seized via civil asset forfeiture laws without due process.

  7. gary says:

    I told you so.

  8. Skydog 88 says:

    “Although consumers continue to cling to cash, they appear to be carrying less of it: 49% overall in the survey and 55% of U.S. respondents said they carry less cash now than they did a year ago. The average American consumer carries $42 today — that’s $8 less than in 2017.”

    Not sure the comparison to days past is accurate. When folks have access to ready cash at the nearest ATM, 24/7, why carry so much cash? In olden days, people lined up at the bank tellers on Friday afternoon to get enough cash to carry through the weekend-if you ran out Sat. night, you waited until Monday for more. Not these days….

  9. Cynic says:

    In the UK, supermarkets are reducing staff considerably: contactless payment is so much quicker than typing in a security code, etc., and thereby exiting the supermarket nightmare a little more promptly than otherwise.

    So stressed and pressed for time are the modern human-rats, scuttling down the tunnels made for them by corporations….

  10. L Lavery says:

    With the advances in 3D printing technology there’ll soon be no need to keep a stash of notes under your mattress as you’ll be able to print perfect forgeries as and when you need them. Which, of course, will mean eventually no one will accept cash at all, no matter that the net is down or not! (Well, unless the cost of production gives the notes value. There’s a thought.)

    Ironically, the likes of bitcoin, which is true digital cash, cannot really be forged[1]. That is just one of the reasons why (decentralised[2]) crypto will be the money of the future.

    [1] The cost of creating one fake bitcoin is estimated to be $31 billion,

    [2] It is essential it is decentralised, that no one is able to censure transactions, just like physical cash.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      No need to create a fake bitcoin. Just steal it from an exchange. That’s a frequent occurrence, and a lot cheaper.

      And anyway, why would anyone want to create a forgery of something like bitcoin that has lost 67% of it value in just six months?

      • L Lavery says:

        I agree, stealing bitcoins from (centralised) exchanges is far far easier than creating fake ones but that’s hardly bitcoin’s fault. So long as you keep your private keys to yourself the bitcoin are yours, only you can move them. Don’t store them on a centralised exchange that requires you move them to an address to which they have the private keys.

        Having bought bitcoin at the end of 2014 for circa £250 each, and hodled ever since, I have suffered that six month 67% loss and now my bitcoin are only worth just under £5,000 each. What a fool I was.

        Besides, if all you do is view bitcoin as some sort of investment then you miss a lot and are likely better off sticking to conventional investments. Bitcoin isn’t the money of the internet it is the internet of money. That’s why I’m into bitcoin. I’m not in it for the money, I’m in it for the freedom.

  11. Gene says:

    In the early ’70s, I used to get $40 from the bank or S&L and it would last me two weeks. I used it for everything. Around 1975, I got my first credit card, a Visa, and I loyally kept it for at least a decade, until the bank started to charge for it. Now I have three cards: a Visa, a MC and a Discover. I pay off the balance each month. Unless Discover has a 5% deal going on, I use the Visa and get 1.25% cash back. It’s cheaper than using cash. Recently, I’ve had no cash in my wallet at all since I generally only use cash at the barber. He doesn’t accept credit cards.

  12. unit472 says:

    Living 40 feet above the Gulf of Mexico I have to recognize that, while my condo might survive a hurricane, electricity could be out for a considerable time so I keep cash around even if I don’t use it much otherwise. I also keep some gold coins around as an emergency back up to ‘cash’.

    A million dollars in a bank will be useless in a crisis.

  13. Gershon says:

    Are more of the sheeple starting to wake up and balk about being herded into the globalists’ incorporated neoliberal plantation?

  14. stan says:

    Another aspect of the push for cashless transactions is the desire of businesses to eliminate employees and not have to manage the ones they do hire.

    Handling and managing money takes time and money. If there is no cash in the transaction then the employee cannot steal it. They may steal your personal and financial data, but what does the business care.

  15. Ambrose Bierce says:

    Remember the personal checking account? I mean remember writing checks? Balancing your checkbook? Now very few merchants take personal checks, and then only if you show ID, like a credit card. The old saying goes “I can’t be overdrawn, I still have checks left!!”

  16. Ishkabibble says:

    Older commenters here remember a day before debit cards, online banking and other digital means of paying for things. Credit cards and checks, OTOH, have been around for as long as I can remember, but my point is that there was a relatively-recent time when cash was, if not king, a very widely used means for buying, selling, lending, etc.

    For example, I remember getting my paycheck “cashed” every week at a bank in which I had a minimal savings account. I didn’t need a “budget”. I spent only what I absolutely needed to spend for the necessities of life and did not spend the rest. My pile of cash at home grew bigger. My one and only security measure was that I did not mention the size of my pile to absolutely anyone, including the government.

    From the information I “voluntarily” provided to the Internal Revenue Service each and every year that I was employed, “the government” knew how many federal reserve notes (FRN) I had been given by my employers, but the government only had an educated guess about how many of those FRN I had spent, or, at least as importantly, for just exactly WHAT I had spent it.

    Each month I drove around to the local power company office, etc. to pay cash for services that they had provided for the past month and was given a receipt for payment.

    I paid for my groceries, gasoline, vehicle maintenance, etc. etc. in cash. My parents told me that they had done the same for their entire lives.

    But times changed. Banks started providing the “service” of accepting payments for businesses. They INSINUATED themselves “in between” me and those businesses; so now it was just one trip to the bank to pay all those bills both in cash and as “withdrawals” from ones savings or checking account. How nice. How convenient!

    Then times changed ever more rapidly to what we experience today. Banks are “in between” (involved in) the vast majority of “transactions” — in other words, more intimately involved in everyday human behavior.

    But it is still possible, even in this day and age, to cash ones check every week, save cash, pay in cash, etc., just like the good old days.

    There were infrequent “financial crises” in the past, but legislation passed to prevent their recurrence was rescinded, and now they’re becoming more and more frequent, almost like clockwork.

    Investors are upset. Investors don’t want to “lose” their “money”. Investors want certainty. Investors want “return” on their investments.

    Investors have come up with a fantastic solution to their problems — to their uncertainty– that will bolster their “confidence”. BAN CASH.

    After that happens, TBTF banks and their investors MUST then be “in between” (intimately involved in) ALL transactions. You won’t be able to buy anything without a bank being involved. Banks and their investors will become a “necessity of life”. And necessities of life like food, water, shelter and “TBTF” banks will HAVE TO BE PAID FOR. And so, “naturally”, we will have to pay banks to keep our “money” there and pay for bank “services”.

    To sum up, we are being told by the Elite owners and investors in the TBTF banks that only when Their TBTF banks are inextricably, permanently, “in between” all transactions, and government “authorities” know exactly how and on what every single individual in the human race is spending their money, will investors’ “confidence” in the financial system be restored; the “financial crises” ended and human Utopia finally be reached.

    Wake up, fellow herd members. This is serious, life-threatening stuff. Somehow we’ve got to do something to stop the Elite from banning cash. There is no better, simpler way to do that than by withdrawing as cash as much digital money as possible from banks and investments and using that cash as much as possible to conduct all transactions. This bone–simple act will send a strong, unmistakable message to the Elite that they cannot ignore– that people do not want an Elite “managing” our daily lives. Use it or lose it, folks.

  17. Anon says:

    Santander Bank has had ongoing issues with card outages. Not reliable.

  18. WES says:

    People want diversity because they don’t and won’t trust anyone thing 100%.

  19. WSKJ says:

    A couple of thoughts here:

    First, the historical track record of hoarding, as a way to safeguard money, is quite good. Many (most ?) of the ancient coins that are now in collections have come from hoards made in ancient days. One might even say, for example, that some of these are now in the hoards of the British Museum…. Some, of course, are still well hidden, and one supposes that some will remain so.

    Second, I find objectionable the use of the word “frictionless” to refer to payment by mobile app. Certainly it calls into question the meaning of the word; oh, well. let’s devalue our language along with our currency.

    “Frictionless” perhaps was chosen to suggest smooth and easy. But isn’t the currency of exchange supposed to exhibit some friction in transaction ? Isn’t the whole point of currency some sort of friction ? Yes, I realize that the point is probably that, hey, forget currency, we’re living in a brave new world of credit cylinders where They find out what you owe and make you pay (thx, Max Headroom and Repo Man).

    Transition to the brave new world where the idea of “currency” is outdated, and we’ve moved on to …….um, not sure what, but whatever it is, it’s frictionless.

    better quit now
    thx, DQ

  20. R Davis says:

    “One of its main findings is that 87% of consumers used cash to make purchases in the last month.”

    What ??
    I don’t understand how this is relevant.

    The trick is to dig a big hole in the backyard & place a safe into, conceal hole with a large pot plant.
    This is where you hide a few thousand dollars in cash – just in case.
    No one will look, trust me.
    They will, however, rip up your mattress looking for the cash.

    There is no need to stop using the electronic modcons –
    Just make sure that you have an abundance of cash at the ready for when & not – IF – their system screws up.

    As for the consumers using cash… of late… who knows… maybe the money was earned cash-in-hand ??

    • R Davis says:

      The local drug dealers indulged in a spending spree ??

      • R Davis says:

        The last thing we want is for ‘them’ to shut down the new fangled electronic money system –
        & neither do the new fangled bank robbers – hey !!

  21. Surf@jm says:

    The banks will do as the credit card companies…….
    Accept the fraud as a cost of doing business, and ignore it….
    As long as they get their profits, why upset the apple cart?…..

Comments are closed.