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Quids out: Is Scotland ready to become a cashless society?

From cafes to churches, more and more places are rejecting cash and only taking card payments.

Laura Alderman

Whether it's a daily coffee, a shopping spree or even to use public toilets - it's becoming increasingly simple to pay for everything and anything with just a tap, swipe or click.

The UK Finance Payments Market Report published this month found that two thirds of us use contactless payments, and debit cards were the single most used payment method last year.

Two years ago, card overtook cash as the preferred form of payment, and UK Finance predicts that in the next decade, while cash will remain an important payment method, the number of debit card payments will reach 22.3 billion per year.

Scotland's business owners are taking note of this trend and responding to consumer needs.


Cairngorm Coffee in Edinburgh's West End will soon go completely cashless, and manager Robi Lambie said their were numerous reasons for doing so.

"Everyone is just so used to paying with card, it's just how people buy things," he said.

"There's issues with fake notes, old notes which are still in circulation, there's a security concern with having cash in the store.

"I would much rather get caught in cyber security than risk the security of my own staff."

"We started almost six years ago, at that point we were 24% card transactions. In the first six months of this year, we're now 74% card transactions."

Contactless with God

Last month, the Church of Scotland announced they'd soon be trialling a contactless collection plate in a bid to "move with the times".

Greyfriars Parish Church in Lanark will soon have one of the Goodplate devices, but have been using contactless and text donations for years. To great effect, says their Reverend Bryan Kerr.

"The church has always been adapting to new ways of giving," he said.

Reverend Bryan Kerr's accepts contactless and text donations.
Reverend Bryan Kerr's accepts contactless and text donations. STV

"People are now in much more control of what they give and how they give, this is just a simple way of trying to acknowledge that people don't have as much cash in their pocket as they used to.

"They pay for shopping with their phones, why not give a gift to God with their phone as well?"

Indeed, it seems most businesses are weighing up their options and trying to adapt, even the charity sector - CHAS is currently looking to introduce contactless collection buckets on the street and at events.

Cash in the attic

But there's growing concerns that as the popularly of cash wanes, access to it could become more difficult.

Which? Money found that in the last eight years, the Royal Bank of Scotland lost one third of its branches.

In the Access to Cash Review for 2018, they found eight million people in the UK think of cash as an "economic society" and rely on it. They are calling on the government, regulators and banks to protect access to cash.

Jenny Ross, money editor at Which?, said: "More than three quarters of pensioners and those on a low income are particularly reliant on cash, so those groups of people are certainly likely to suffer.

"It echoes our concerns that bank branches are closing at a really rapid rate. Which? has long been warning of the dangers of drifting into a cashless society."

Robi Lambie runs Cairngorm Coffee in Edinburgh, which will soon go cashless.
Robi Lambie runs Cairngorm Coffee in Edinburgh, which will soon go cashless. STV

Disconnected from contactless

Indeed not all businesses have sufficient connectivity to take card payments. Gillian Macleod runs Glam Hair and Beauty in Kingseat - just ten miles north west of Aberdeen.

She said: "Internet and cellular connectivity is really poor in the area and we struggle to take card payments as well."

"If the internet doesn't work you cant work, we can stand for four or five minutes trying to take someone's card payment. It really does impact on the rest of our day."

Ms Macleod said some months she's had to pay thousands in charges for having the card payment machine too.

She said: "If we were to become a cashless society I think the government need to do something where it wouldn't cost us to take card payments, because it doesn't cost us to take card payments.

Cashless society

But Scotland isn't the only country experimenting with cashless payments.

Sweden, the country which first introduced the banknote to Europe in the 17th century, is aiming to become the world's first cashless society by 2023.

Many cafes and pubs which line the streets of Stockholm now only accept card payments, with signs in the window reading 'no cash'.

According to Riksbank, Sweden's central bank, cash is used in fewer than 20% of transactions, but Mats Hedenstrom from the Swedish Trade Federation says it's less than that - only 10% of all transactions are cash based.

"I think there are a lot of similarities between our societies and we look at the united kingdom in all aspects.

"Swedes love technology and we are not afraid of using it. We adapt to new technology very fast."

"Still, I don't think we'll become a cashless society, at least not in the next 10 to 15 years.

"People living in the countryside will continue using cash. Also people coming from other countries will use cash. If you want to sell to tourists you can't ask them to use a card."

Swedes have adopted cashlessness so rapidly , that a so-called "cash revolution" has been set up, with Bjorn Eriksson, the former president of Interpol, as its leader.

https://stv.tv/news/west-central/1435320-glasgow-sets-up-contactless-payments-scheme-for-beggars/ | default

He told STV News: "The idea was to get rid of cash because the banks earn more money that way. It's partly unfair because a big big group of people are left behind.

"There is somewhat of a battle going on, its difficult to say what the final outcome will be. I think some kind of legislation, we are the only ones in the world to go this way. They will protect cash when it comes to the end of the line."

Over in the USA, the idea of cashlessness is in its infancy, and Joseph P Bailey, associate research professor at the University of Maryland's business school, says contactless payments hasn't been widely adopted on the other side of the pond.

https://stv.tv/news/east-central/1424157-edinburgh-fringe-to-have-contactless-street-performer-tips/ | default

"Its about the pursuit of anonymity," he said." Most consumers in the United States understand that when they use a payment processing other than just cash, there are ways to go ahead and be identified and tracked.

"You don't have a ubiquitous adoption of technology and this digital divide which exists between the haves and have-nots is a real concern for policy makers."

This week, UK Finance revealed the UK banking and finance industry has committed to helping local communities to identify and secure appropriate free access to cash for customers.

The trend of mobile and contactless payments will surely continue - but it yet might still be too rash, to completely ditch cash.

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