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We Are Not Ready To Go Cashless Yet

Many shops in Germany had “CASH ONLY” signs displayed at the entrance to their premises.

It was like the payment system of Germany had traveled back in time.

Starting from May 24 normal payments became impossible for the retailers using the H5000 payment card terminals. The initial reports suggested that the cause of the problems was a software glitch affecting all H5000 payment card terminals, which are widely used by German retailers including some of the largest supermarket chains.

The problems lasted for a week or so, pushing some larger retailers to replace all of their card terminals. It became a nightmare for the smaller retailers because it is an investment they just can’t afford to make. There are around 100,000 H5000 units in Germany, according to some estimates.

Initial reports suggested that H5000 card machines across Germany were experiencing a software malfunction that stopped them from processing payments.

But IT experts have pointed to a different possible cause which was an expiring product certificate. Retailers in Germany have clearly lost a certain amount of business as a result of the outage. The crisis appears to have more or less petered out, at least for the companies that have been able to replace or fix their terminals.

The crisis still serves as a timely reminder of one of the main dangers of going completely cashless: the inherent fragility of a purely cashless economy.

In this case, the impact was limited at a personal level because there was cash available.

This poses the question that ‘Are we ready for a purely cashless economy?’

The study — Benchmarking the World’s Digital Transformation — found that cash is also still popular in Italy, Spain and Japan.

But in the North of Europe, the use of cash is decreasing day by day due to artificially accelerated reasons.

France cash and cheques account for just 12.6% of in-store transactions.

Imagine a similar crisis happening in France!

The disruptive impact would have been much greater.

On Monday, May 16, Norway, the world’s most cashless economy (according to its central banks), with reportedly just 4% of the population still using cash, suffered a nationwide outage of its card payment system.

There are a lot of other reasons why a fully cashless society is far from desirable:

  • the inevitability of more granular surveillance
  • the loss of our personal privacy and anonymity
  • the exclusionary effects it will have on those who are unable to access or use digital technologies
  • the power and control it would grant to both governments and corporations over our spending habits.

This poses us a larger question, rather than

‘Can we go fully cashless?’ we need to ask

‘Do we want to go fully cashless?’