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A cashless society describes an economic state whereby financial transactions are not conducted with money in the form of physical banknotes or coins, but rather through the transfer of digital information (usually an electronic representation of money) between the transacting parties.[1] Cashless societies have existed from the time when human society came into existence, based on barter and other methods of exchange, and cashless transactions have also become possible in modern times using digital currencies such as bitcoin. However this article discusses and focuses on the term "cashless society" in the sense of a move towards, and implications of, a society where cash is replaced by its digital equivalent - in other words, legal tender (money) exists, is recorded, and is exchanged only in electronic digital form.

Such a concept has been discussed widely, particularly because the world is experiencing a rapid and increasing use of digital methods of recording, managing, and exchanging money in commerce, investment and daily life in many parts of the world, and transactions which would historically have been undertaken with cash are often now undertaken electronically.[2][3] Some countries now set limits on transactions and transaction values for which non-electronic payment may be legally used.[4]



The trend towards use of non-cash transactions and settlement began in daily life during the 1990s, when electronic banking became common. By the 2010s digital payment methods were widespread in many countries,[which?] with examples including intermediaries such as PayPal, digital wallet systems operated by companies like Apple, contactless and NFC payments by electronic card or smartphone, and electronic bills and banking, all in widespread use.[3] By the 2010s cash had become actively disfavored in some kinds of transaction which would historically have been very ordinary to pay with physical tender, and larger cash amounts were in some situations treated with suspicion, due to its versatility and ease of use in money laundering and financing of terrorism, and actively prohibited by some suppliers and retailers,[5] to the point of coining the expression of a "war on cash".[6] By 2016 in the United Kingdom it was reported that 1 in 7 people no longer carries or uses cash.[7] The 2016 United States User Consumer Survey Study claims that 75% of respondents preferred a credit or debit card as their payment method while only 11% of respondents preferred cash.[8] Since the founding of both companies in 2009, digital payments can now be made by methods such as Venmo and Square. Venmo allows individuals to make direct payments to other individuals without having cash accessible. Square is an innovation that allows primarily small businesses to receive payments from their clients.

By 2016, only about 2% of the value transacted in Sweden was by cash, and only about 20% of retail transactions were in cash. Fewer than half of bank branches in the country conducted cash transactions.[2] The move away from cash is attributed to banks convincing employers to use direct deposit in the 1960s, banks charging for checks starting in the 1990s, banks launching the convenient Swish smartphone-to-phone payment system in 2012, and the launch of iZettle for small merchants to accept credit cards in 2011.[2]


Share of paymentsEdit

Estimated share of payments done by cashless methods (from studies published 2008-2013)[9][needs update]
Country %
Singapore 61
Netherlands 60
France 59
Sweden 59
Canada 57
Belgium 56
United Kingdom 52
United States 45
Australia 35
Germany 33
South Korea 29
Spain 16
Brazil 15
Japan 14
China 10
Taiwan 6
Italy 6
South Africa 6
Poland 5
Russia 4
Mexico 4
Greece 2
Colombia 2
India 2
Kenya 2
Thailand 2
Malaysia 2
Saudi Arabia 1
Peru 1
Egypt 1
Indonesia 0
Nigeria 0

A common measure of how close to a "cashless society" a country is becoming is some measure of the number of cashless payments or person to person transactions are done in that country. For instance the Nordic countries conduct more cashless transactions than most Europeans. Levels of cash in circulation can widely differ among two countries with similar measure of cashless transactions. For example, Denmark has more than double the amount of cash in circulation as Sweden and a considerably higher percent in the largest denomination banknote, the 1000kr bill.

Across the 33 countries covered in the European Payment Cards Yearbook 2015-16, the average number of card payments per capita per year is 88.4. In comparison, the average Dane makes 268.6 card payments each year, the average Finn 243.6, the average Icelander 375.5, the average Norwegian 353.7 and the average Swede 270.2. This makes card payments in the Nordics two-and a-half to four times higher than the European average.

— Euromonitor International[10]

Amount of cash in circulationEdit

Even though a cashless society is widely discussed, most countries are increasing their currency supply. Exceptions are South Africa whose supply of banknotes fluctuates wildly compared to most nations, and Sweden which has significantly reduced its currency supply since 2007.

Banknotes and coins in circulation at end of 2017[11]
Country 2017 Value as a % of GDP Value as a % of narrow money Total value (USD billions) Value per inhabitant (USD)
Sweden 1.3% 2.2% $7 $698
South Africa 3.4% 9.2% $13 $227
Brazil 3.8% 65.2% $76 $365
United Kingdom(2016) 3.9% 4.6% $94 $1,429
Canada 4.3% 9.4% $73 $2,021
Turkey 4.3% 29.7% $35 $437
Australia 4.6% 22.8% $64 $2,606
Indonesia 5.1% 50.0% $51 $196
South Korea 6.2% 12.7% $101 $1,966
Argentina 6.8% 63.3% $42 $944
Mexico 6.8% 36.1% $78 $631
Saudi Arabia 7.9% 17.3% $54 $1,663
United States 8.2% 44.5% $1,618 $4,949
China 9.5% 14.2% $1,184 $852
Singapore 10.2% 24.9% $34 $6,106
Russia 10.4% 48.9% $165 $1,123
India 10.7% 63.4% $286 $218
Euro area 10.7% 15.4% $1,440 $4,224
Switzerland 12.7% 13.3% $87 $10,280
Hong Kong SAR 17.3% 28.8% $59 $7,948
Japan 20.4% 14.9% $991 $7,818
Banknotes and coins in circulation at end of year.[12] Values are expressed in native currency and are total value per capita
Country Avg. year 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Turkey 12.1% 751 815 993 1,115 1,332
Korea 11.9% 975,301 1,084,361 1,259,466 1,483,891 1,711,506
Mexico 8.0% 7,017 7,270 7,802 8,934 10,303
India 7.9% ₹8,871 ₹9,696 ₹10,546 ₹11,431 ₹12,965
Brazil 6.0% R$825 R$941 R$1,016 R$1,091 R$1,103
Hong Kong SAR 6.0% 37,962 42,063 47,110 48,649 50,763
Singapore 5.5% 5,301 5,481 5,863 6,292 6,943
Saudi Arabia 5.4% 4,928 5,234 5,547 5,879 6,407
United States 5.1% $3,453 $3,725 $3,926 $4,218 $4,433
Switzerland 4.4% 7,401 8,091 8,495 8,622 9,169
Russia 3.8% ₽48,284 ₽53,598 ₽57,942 ₽61,523 ₽58,270
Euro Area 3.8% €2,721 €2,787 €2,913 €3,089 €3,280
Australia 3.8% $2,639 $2,739 $2,873 $2,999 $3,175
Canada 3.2% $1,937 $1,995 $2,058 $2,134 $2,271
Japan 3.2% ¥692,858 ¥715,452 ¥744,471 ¥769,088 ¥811,266
United Kingdom 3.2% £913 £948 £968 £1,019 £1,067
South Africa -3.7% R2,137 R3,021 R2,253 R2,521 R1,765
Sweden -6.9% 10,515kr 10,059kr 8,849kr 8,578kr 7,362kr

Amount of cash in circulation (Historical)Edit

The amount of cash in circulation was much lower in past decades in all countries except Sweden. The oldest comparative figures at Bank for International Settlements were from 1978.

Banknotes and coins in circulation per inhabitant in USD at exchange rate[13]
Country 2017 2008 1998 1988 1978 2017/1978 annual
Switzerland $10,280 $6,371 $3,065 $2,688 $2,008 5.12 4.3%
Japan $7,818 $7,436 $3,728 $2,275 $724 10.79 6.3%
United States $4,960 $2,927 $1,679 $870 $428 11.60 6.5%
Germany $4,227 $3,324 $1,759 $1,300 $680 6.22 4.8%
Belgium $4,227 $3,324 $1,244 $1,127 $1,229 3.44 3.2%
France $4,227 $3,324 $804 $700 $605 6.98 5.1%
Italy $4,227 $3,324 $1,205 $747 $394 10.73 6.3%
Netherlands $4,227 $3,324 $1,272 $1,189 $679 6.23 4.8%
Canada $2,021 $1,444 $685 $554 $320 6.31 4.8%
United Kingdom $1,429 $1,168 $726 $470 $326 4.39 3.9%
Sweden $698 $1,553 $1,082 $1,063 $772 0.90 -0.3%

Legal statusEdit

Under Massachusetts law stating back to 1978, no retailer may "discriminate against a cash buyer by requiring the use of credit".[14]

It was the only state to have such a law until March 2019, when New Jersey passed similar legislation; car rentals, parking garages, and airport stores have carve-outs under the legislation.[15] The bill came shortly after the city of Philadelphia passed a similar law.[16]

Advantages of a cashless societyEdit

Reduced business risks and costsEdit

Cashless payments eliminate several risks, including counterfeit money (though stolen cards are still a risk), theft of cash by employees, and burglary or robbery of cash.[17] The costs of physical security, physically processing cash (withdrawing from the bank, transporting, counting) are also reduced once a business goes completely cashless, as is the risk that the business will not have enough cash on hand to make change.

Reducing transmittal of disease via cashEdit

Cash provides a good home for disease-causing bacteria, according to a study on the bacterial composition in banknotes. [18]

Transaction speedEdit

Restaurant chain Sweetgreen found cashless locations (with customers using payment cards or the chain's mobile app) could process transactions 15% faster.[19]

Reduction in criminal activity by eliminating high-denomination notesEdit

One significant societal advantage cited by proponents is the difficulty of money laundering, tax evasion, performing illegal transactions, and funding illegal activity in a cashless society,[20] Many countries have regulated, restricted, or banned private digital currencies such as Bitcoin, partly to prevent illegal transactions. Large amounts of value can also be stored in real estate, antiques, or commodities like diamonds, gold, silver, and platinum.

Some have proposed a "reduced cash" system, where small bills and coins are available for anonymous, everyday transactions, but high-denomination notes are eliminated. This would make the amount of cash needed to move large amounts of value physically awkward and easier to detect. Large notes are also the most valuable to counterfeit. The United Kingdom declared only banknotes of 5 pounds or less were legal tender after World War II because of fear of Nazi counterfeiting.[citation needed] In 1969, the federal government of the United States declared that banknotes of value over $100 would remain legal tender, but any notes in government hands would be destroyed and that no new notes of those denominations would be printed in the future. Such notes were last printed in the USA in 1945.[citation needed] Canada did the same thing with the CAD$1000 banknote in the year 2000.[citation needed] Sweden printed 10,000kr banknotes in 1939 and 1958, but declared them invalid after 31 December 1991.[citation needed] Singapore has recently announced that they would no longer produce the SGD$10,000 banknote.[citation needed] The European Central Bank has announced that the €500 denomination banknote would not be included in the next series of euro banknotes.[citation needed]

Better collection of economic dataEdit

Rather than conducting costly and periodic surveys and sampling of real-world transactions, real data collected on citizen’s spending can assist in devising and implementing policies that are deduced from actual data. With recorded financial transactions, government can better track the movement of the money through financial records which enables them to track the black money and illegal transactions taking place in the country.[21]

Easier consumer budgetingEdit

As digital payments are made, transactions are kept in records. Cashless payments facilitate the tracking of spending expenditure and record the movement of money. Having recorded transactions, it can help citizens to refine their budget more efficiently.[22]



In a digitized economy, payment made will be traceable. With traceable transactions, institutions would have potential access to this information.[23] With these digital traces left behind, digital transactions become vulnerable. Such transactions allow businesses a way to build a consumer’s personal profiles based on their spending patterns. The issue of data mining also come into place as countries head towards a cashless society. Cashless transactions leave a record in the database of the company as one make payment, and this information becomes a way for prediction of future events. Through large number of records, data mining then allows the organization to compile a profile of an individual through its' records in the database.[24]

Going all-digital, these data retrieved from transactions lead to widespread surveillance where individuals can be tracked by both corporations and the government.[25] These records might also be available to hackers and could be made public after a data breach.

Problems for the unbankedEdit

Cashless systems can be problematic for people who currently rely on cash, who are concentrated in certain populations such as the poor, near poor, elderly,[26] undocumented immigrants, and youth.[27] Electronic transactions require a bank account and some familiarity with the payment system.[28] Many people in impoverished areas are underbanked or unbanked. In the United States, almost one-third of the population lacked the full range of basic financial services.[29] According to FDIC data, of households that earn an annual income of less than $15,000 per year, almost 25.6% do not have a bank account.[30] Nationwide, 7.7% of people in United States do not have bank accounts, with levels over 20% in some cities and rural counties, and over 40% in some census tracts.[31]

As part of its Smart Nation initiative, Singapore has been moving towards a cashless economy. 14.4% of the country's population is over 65 years old,[32] and the majority of seniors still use cash as their only mode of payment. Not used to digitized payment methods, troubleshooting issues such as managing lost cards or passwords and managing their expenses can create potential trouble for anyone transitioning from cash.[33]

Fraudulent ActivitiesEdit

When payment transactions are stored in servers, it increases the risks of unauthorized breaches by hackers.[34] Financial cyber attacks and digital crime also form a greater risks when going cashless.[25] Many companies already suffer data breaches, including of payment systems.[35] Electronic accounts are vulnerable to unauthorized access and transfer of funds to another account or unauthorized purchases.[24]

Attacks on or accidental outages of telecommunication infrastructure also prevents electronic payments from working, unlike cash transactions which can continue with minimal infrastructure.[36]

Centralized controlEdit

Opponents point out that an entirely cashless system, in addition to tracking all transactions, would enable a central government to:

  • Enforce a transaction tax on every person-to-person payment[37]
  • Eliminate storage of cash as a means to escape nominal negative interest rates, which are used to fight deflation by discouraging savings (most effective if combined with bans on barter, private currencies like Bitcoin, and storage of precious metals like gold). Certain types of money could be set to "expire" and be worthless if not spent in specific ways or by specific times.[37][38][39] This is also possible with cash, if the government allows high inflation or lets its currency undergo a devaluation.
  • Totalitarian regimes could conduct more effective mass surveillance and quickly prevent certain individuals from buying anything or earning any money.[40]
  • Restrict the type of consumer goods that can be purchased with a certain amount of money (and parents might be able to do the same with allowance money)[41]


Consumers are less aware about the amount of money they are spending day-to-day when swiping their card to complete a transaction than if they budgeted money into a wallet and paid in cash.[42]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "THE COST OF CASH IN THE UNITED STATES" (PDF). The Fletcher School Tufts University. p. 9. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Sweden leads the race to become cashless society
  3. ^ a b UK moves towards cashless society
  4. ^ "". Retrieved 2017-01-27.
  5. ^ A cashless society? Some retailers turn their noses up at currency
  6. ^ Negative Interest Rates and the War on Cash
  7. ^ Alex West (23 October 2016). "One in seven Brits no longer carries cash, as we become increasingly reliant on card and smartphone payments". The Sun. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  8. ^ "2016 User Consumer Study" (PDF).
  9. ^ "Measuring progress toward a cashless society" (PDF). MasterCard. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  10. ^[dead link]
  11. ^ Statistics on payment, clearing and settlement systems in the CPMI countries - Figures for 2017 - Bank for International Settlements "red books"
  12. ^ Statistics on payment, clearing and settlement systems in the CPMI countries - Figures for 2015 - Bank for International Settlements "red books"
  13. ^ Statistics on payment, clearing and settlement systems in 11 countries - Figures for 1988 - Bank for International Settlements "red books" pg 509
  14. ^ "No cash allowed: Stores refusing to accept money". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2019-03-19.
  15. ^ Geuss, Megan (2019-03-18). "New Jersey becomes second state to ban cashless shops and restaurants". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2019-03-19.
  16. ^ "Protecting The 'Unbanked' By Banning Cashless Businesses In Philadelphia". Retrieved 2019-03-19.
  17. ^ Sivabalan, Srinivasan (17 July 2017). "Going Cashless? Bad for Tax Cheats, Privacy, Poor". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  18. ^ Toward a Metagenomic Understanding on the Bacterial Composition and Resistome in Hong Kong Banknotes
  19. ^ As restaurants go cashless, a backlash is building. Will D.C. intervene?
  20. ^ The Sinister Side of Cash
  21. ^ Poh, Joanne (17 October 2017). "Why is the Singapore Government So Adamant About Going Cashless". YahooFinance. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  22. ^ Poh, Joanne (16 September 2017). "Ignoring this one point about a cashless society could have a huge impact on Singaporeans' finance". asiaone. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  23. ^ Frisby, Dominic (21 March 2016). "Why we should fear a cashless world". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  24. ^ a b Catherine, Downey (1996). "The High Price of a Cashless Society: Exchanging Privacy Rights for Digital Cash, 14J. Marshall J. Computer & Info. L. 303 (1996)".
  25. ^ a b O'Dwyer, Rachel (2018). Gloerich, Inte; Lovink, Geert; De Vries, Paricia (eds.). MoneyLab, Overcoming the Hype. Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam. p. 151.
  26. ^ Auyong, Hawyee (4 September 2017). "Inclusivity the key to success of cashless drive". Today. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  27. ^ As restaurants go cashless, a backlash is building. Will D.C. intervene?
  28. ^ Ng, Nicole (22 September 2017). "Going Cashless: Who's Left Behind". Dollars And Sense. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  29. ^ Sivy, Michael (20 November 2012). "Why So Many Americans Don't have Bank Accounts". TIME. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  30. ^ Burhouse, Susan; Chu, Karyen (20 October 2016). "2011 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households" (PDF). Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  31. ^ Corporation for Enterprise Development. "The Most Unbanked Places in America" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-09-10.
  32. ^ Toh, Elgin (28 September 2017). "Singapore ageing at faster pace than a decade ago". The Straits Times. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  33. ^ Mokhtar, Faris (28 August 2017). "Govt will seek to ensure no one is left behind in cashless drive". Today. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  34. ^ Domagoj, Sajter (2011). "Privacy, Identity, and the Perils of the Cashless Society" (PDF).
  35. ^ Smith (1 December 2018). "Forever 21: Hackers breached payment system for 7 months". CSO. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  36. ^ As Society Becomes Increasingly Cashless, Is Massachusetts Ready?
  37. ^ a b Banking Transaction Tax is a Dangerous Idea
  38. ^ The Sinister Side of a Cashless Society
  39. ^ Economics Professor: Negative Interest Rates Aimed at Driving Small Banks Out of Business and Eliminating Cash
  40. ^ The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy
  41. ^ What Happens When We Become A Cashless Society?
  42. ^ "Consumers' Attitude and Perception towards Doing Cashless Transactions: An Empirical Study in Vadodara".[dead link]

External linksEdit