According to a poll conducted by Mastercard in 2013, 80 percent of consumer spending that year was cashless. Participants aged 18-24 years used cash less often the same year.
When was the last time you saw a millennial paying by cash? Buying a coffee at Starbucks, shopping at the mall, grabbing a public transport ticket, gas bills and pizzas on a Friday night are but a few examples of transactions made by card or smartphone payments and where cash no longer seems to be the ideal method.
All money becomes digital
People keep believing that there is a confrontation between cash and digital money, but the main question does not concern the usability of cash as a method of payment.
Instead, the central question concerns the type of digital money we are going to use. Will it be centralized like the dollar or decentralized like Bitcoin?
New technologies have enabled digital currencies to be a reality.
In the past year, the BCE has removed the €500 notes from circulation, as has India, Venezuela and Australia with their respective currencies.
Spain has also prohibited cash payments consisting of over €1,000, the same country where 31 percent of the population are denied access to a bank account.
In the same way, other countries like Denmark are planning to create their own digital currency. Throughout the world there is a high accessibility to mobile phones, however, this is not the same for banking services, as there are still three bln people without a bank account in 2016.
However, what are the advantages and disadvantages of a centralized digital currency?
Advantages of centralized digital money
- All transactions would be controlled by the government and reduce the shadow economy.
- It would force people to convert their savings into consumption or investment, giving a boost to GDP.
- The financial system would be modernized.
- Creating digital money would be easier than printing paper money since it doesn’t involve expensive processes like printing.
- Problems for the elderly with difficulties adapting to the new changes and reticent to "touch" their savings.
- People without access to the banking system would be more dependent on government assistance.
- Illegal immigrants would have more difficulties finding jobs as the shadow economy would contract.
- In the case of hacks or attacks on computer systems, virtual payments would be on hold until its recovery, which means a paralysis for the economy.
I am quite sure that the states would also prefer a more controllable currency, a centralized one, and the tricky point will be to adopt a decentralized currency to which governments are most likely to relate to the black market, drugs, etc.
Electronic banking Monopoly
As evidence that the big banks are already preparing for a virtual currency, I expose the case of the famous game of Monopoly, to which surely we all have played.
This Christmas Hasbro, Inc., the company that manufactures the board game, presented a new version that works without cash and only with a card. Curiously, behind this company are entities like Wells Fargo Advisors, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) and the Bank of America.
For now, virtual coins like Bitcoin are a step or two ahead, but we will see for how long. These types of cryptocurrencies seem like the only real option to preserve our privacy and own monetary control, although we still need to overcome the barrier of financial illiteracy. The generational change will be one of the most influential factors of its adoption as young people are going to set the tone.
In any case, if cash is going to be globally prohibited, Bitcoin won’t be something just for geeks that's for sure.