Fact or alternative fact-who’s to say?

31 May 2017

United Kingdom

Paul Race



Like most people these days I tend to scour the internet for information, whether it’s work related or or in my real life.  From a work perspective I have discovered a couple of articles that proclaim the imminent onset of a cashless society and have presented new ‘facts’ to support the argument.  In quite another context, a friend has recommended Pembrokeshire as the ideal holiday destination for a family with young children.  I keyed in a number of place names – Tenby, Saundersfoot, Barafundle – and the search was on.  Not only did I discover some delightful potential retreats, but I also came across a real life scenario that put my work-related reading in a different context.

 Let’s look at the ‘facts’ as presented by industry insiders. According to the first article in Information Age, ‘Britain is swiftly becoming a cashless society’.  What’s the evidence for this?  ‘According to research by cross border e-payment specialist, PPRO Group, 59.4 percent of citizens believe that the UK will be a cashless society soon. 12 percent feel that this will happen within five years time, while a more forward-thinking 4 percent think that physical money will be obsolete in less than two years time.’

 If you tell people often enough that we’re going to have a cashless society, and let’s face it, we’ve been told it for the past thirty years, then it’s hardly surprising that when asked those same people will say ‘yes, it’s going to happen’. To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, they would say that wouldn’t they. 

 Everyone likes to appear well informed.  But to use this as evidence that the cashless society will happen any time soon could be considered a little naïve.  The same article goes on to claim that over a quarter of people in the UK find it irritating when they have to pay in cash rather than by card.  Now while nobody disputes the increased use of mobile payments etc. I can’t help feeling the ‘non-cash enthusiasts’ are getting a bit ahead of themselves not least as the last figures from the UK Payments Authority suggest that in 2025 we British will still be making 21,495 cash payments every minute. 

 The second article I read was indeed a real world example from Visa that described a small café in South London that no longer accepts cash payments.  How typical is this?  What would happen in, let us say, South West Wales if the cash payment option was taken away?

 As you’ve probably gathered by now, my third piece of reading, again a real life situation, painted a very different scenario.  In my search for a holiday destination I came across an article entitled ‘Tenby ‘short changed’ by Bank Holiday cash point crisis’.  Apparently, this April local councillors reported that the weekend had been marred when the ATMs in the seaside resort ran out of cash.  One is reported as saying ‘This sort of carry on is exactly the opposite of what we want in Tenby, it’s not good for the town and unfair to the tourists and people who live here’.

 The article goes on to describe how the local Post Office had ‘saved Easter’ and the community from a ‘sticky situation’, providing cash withdrawal facilities to over 600 customers.  Visitors and locals acquired more than £36,000 in cash in this way.  A cashless society?  Tell it to the people of Tenby!

Sometimes I wonder whether we in the industry live in a bubble, ignoring what is actually going on in the outside world. When it comes to predicting the future of cash, perhaps we need to dig deeper than the headlines. While one person’s fact is another person’s alternative fact and the industry debate rages on, every second of every day people everywhere in the real world are continuing to make payments in cash. Even those of us who work in the industry.

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