The man with no money: fintech goes cashless

Moving towards a cashless world is just the current reality in the developed world. But what does the this mean for financial services firms?


The title of this blog aptly describes my husband. Gone are the days he carried cash in his wallet. Now he – like many others – is a fan of the contactless payment. No hassle, no receipts, no queuing at the cash point at lunchtime. No cash.

Not that it’s a race, but apparently the Nordics are in the lead when it comes to being paperless. To the extent that they expect to be completely cash free by 2030 – according to Niklas Arvidsson, author of the popular study ‘The Cashless Society’.  Since 2010, the six largest Nordic banks have been making the transition to wean themselves off cash. Between 2010 and 2012, more than 500 branches went cash-free. In that same period, 900 cash machines were removed, creating one of the worst cash machine coverages in Europe.

In Sweden, the first country to implement paper money (and now the first to be paperless), even the homeless who sell newspapers on the street in Stockholm have mobile card readers. You know when mobile card readers are that prevalent, it’s only a matter of time before cash is history.

In comparison, the UK seems somewhat behind the curve. According to Payments UK, a trade association for the UK payments industry, in 2015 cash was used for just under half of all payments by consumers. They think that by 2025 that will drop to just one in four payments.

At a recent gathering of some of the leading financial services technologists in Europe, Deniz Güven from Garanti Bank (Turkey’s second largest private bank) talked about an experiment he conducted. He asked his 28-year old brother to see how long he could last without any cash. We’re talking about Istanbul here, so different dynamics and no doubt less availability of card readers. Still. Do you know how long he managed? Six days. Six whole days with no cash. That makes me wonder how long I could manage living in London with no cash. Weeks? Months?

What does this mean? Will toddlers stop playing “shop”, or rather start playing with credit cards only? My point of reference for the next generation ultimately comes down to my three-year-old. (Incidentally, her supermarket till has both cash and a credit card. Whether it’s of the contactless variety I don’t know. By the time she is supermarket shopping for real, the Internet of Everything will probably have banished the need for going to a supermarket in any case.)

I digress. What does it mean? Moving towards a cashless world is just the current reality in the developed world. There is no reason to debate it. It’s happening. It’s part of the digital / financial evolution. And we will all just get on board.