The notion of the United States becoming a cashless society has been a hot topic for years. It has become an even more relevant one during the pandemic. Worry over whether currency was a vehicle for transferring the virus fueled the debate. (A rumor that the World Health Organization diffused by explaining that washing hands after dealing with currency at any time is just good hygiene.)
The reality is though that people turn to cash in a crisis.
A politico.com article, Is the Coronavirus Killing Off Cash?, made the point that cash is far from gone. “The COVDI-19 pandemic, like most emergencies, has seen people stashing away paper money.” Banks and credit unions have seen an increase in ATM usage as customers withdraw at a greater rate than usual. Some even reported record-high dispensing days. A mobilepayments.com article reinforced the idea that during a crisis people turn to cash, stating: “…cash is strong in a crisis. In addition, 24×7 ATMS can be relied upon in an emergency, and are a vital part of the infrastructure in troubled times, as well as normal times…”
Even though mobile payments like Apple Pay have increased, there is still a need for access to cash. In early March CNN.com reported that cash represents about 30 percent of all transactions. Not offering cash as a payment option discriminates against the unbanked and underbanked consumers, which a last report was approximately 25 percent of US households. In fact, businesses in cities like San Francisco and New York City along with the state of New Jersey are protecting those consumers with laws requiring that businesses accept cash. And, many cities and state are following their lead.
To those unbanked and underbanked consumers, cash is critical. The article, As We Reshape Our Lives, Cash Will Bind Us Together, explains that contactless options may work for some, but not all. “Everyone has a right to exercise choice. And no other financial instrument today provides more choice than cash,” the article states. “Innovation is a powerful force but today, innovation is also a call to look more widely at ensuring cash is accessible at every socioeconomic level.”