There is a lot of discussion about the death of cash throughout the financial technology industry. This mentality has even spread to mainstream media, producing articles such as “Millennials are Saying Bye-Bye to Paper Money” and “Why Don’t Millennials Use Cash?” These pieces are widely published and disseminated, despite the consistent use of assumptions which are primarily based on anecdotal evidence, rather than hard data from a multitude of sources. So what is the real story on currency?
During his presentation, “An Investigation on the War on Cash,” at the 2016 National ATM Council Conference & Expo in Orlando, George Sarantopoulos, CEO and founder of Access One ATM, said that he is seeing cash being attacked on several fronts. He cited asset forfeiture laws that discourage the collection and harboring of large amounts of cash; Operation Choke Point aimed at dismantling the ability for cash intensive businesses to operate; and disinformation designed to spread an anti-cash and anti-cash business message as examples he’s seeing in the United States.
The Real Story of Cash
Once fully examined, it becomes clear the truth about cash is much different than the stories being told. Rather than eliminating cash use, the introduction of alternative payment methods has merely expanded the payments landscape.
During the NAC2016 presentation it was noted that millennials came of age during the peak of the financial crisis. Between 2007-2009 the availability of credit dropped by about half and millennials grew up using cash because they could not get credit.
Recent Federal Reserve Bank Payment Diaries show a continued use of cash as a primary form of payment – especially by millennials. While this trend is partially fueled by the continued scarcity of credit, it may also be attributed to a generational aversion to reliance on lines of credit – a product of having lived through the recent financial crisis.
In addition to regular use by millennials, cash in circulation has seen steady growth. Prior to the financial crisis there were approximately 5.7 billion $20 notes in circulation. In 2015 there were 8.5 billion. It is projected there will be a continued increase to around 10 billion $20 notes by 2020. This growth is based on arbitrary printing schedules but on demand for cash. Circulation of $100 notes, for instance, has shown negligee growth over the past 10-15 years.
Where to Go from Here
Industry experts advocate getting the word out about the benefits of cash for consumers. Promoting positive messages as well as true use numbers can help ensure a better future and continued use of currency as a primary form of payment.
“As a cash-based industry we need to do a better job of combating the war on cash with positive messages and true statistics on cash,” said Sarantopoulos.
To help spread the message about cash ATM operators can find information and resources on cash use from industry groups such as the ATM Industry Association, the National ATM Council, Inc., publications like ATM Marketplace, CurrenScene and Counting on Currency, and ATMIA’s new website Cash Repository.
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