A day without cash

As I'm cycling to work, I ride past a flower stall with a sign up saying "You can pay by card here." At another shop, I see a sticker in the window that says "Pay by card? Yes please!" I've decided to go without cash for the whole day in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Let's see how I'll get on.

I pick up a sandwich from the supermarket and pay for it with my debit card. I'm conscious that I don't have any change on me. If you need to use a shopping trolley, you always need a coin handy, so that's not ideal if I need to pick up more things next time. I leave the shop and pass someone selling a street newspaper. Naturally he only takes cash too, so I can't help him today.

At work, everyone has been paying for their lunch from the canteen using their debit card for quite some time. Cash has practically become extinct in the building. I chat to my colleagues about the whole point of cash. We soon start naming transactions that are still done using cash. At the street market, for example, mobile payment machines are becoming increasingly popular, but the majority of payments are still made with crisp notes and jingling coins. It seems charity boxes and collection plates aren't quite ready for virtual money yet either. At major train stations, we also need coins to use the toilet. And when it comes to pocket money and weekly allowance, my colleagues seem to do things the old-fashioned way and give cash to their kids.

Come evening, I head to the pub with some friends, but when leaving early I want to sort my part of the bill out. You can use your card, but the bartender is on her own and it's busy. So I have to wait a while before I'm served. In this case, it takes considerably longer than if I could just leave a ten on the table and take off. On top of that, I know that the staff doesn’t appreciate a large group splitting the bill and all ten try to pay by card. Her face says it all.

Later I'm watching a series on Netflix where some bad guys are walking around with big suitcases full of money. That's a prime reason to get rid of cash too, of course. A good deal of organised crime still runs on it. If we could shut it down... but even if we didn't have paper money any more, criminals will always find another way to steal money. Hackers will jump at the chance for some business, I reckon.

I start thinking about people without a bank account. And I don't mean just criminals, but regular people who might be disabled, disadvantaged or homeless. How would they survive in a world without cash? A blind or partially-sighted person can recognise notes and coins based on their size and texture. It must be more complicated with virtual 'denominations.' I have also heard that people who are bad at managing money are often better at keeping track of their spending if they use cash rather than paying with plastic or online – so that's another point we need to consider.

Just before I go to bed, I carefully take stock of things: the Netherlands is a country that, in my view, is definitely not ready yet to go completely cashless. I'm curious to see what the biggest stumbling block will prove to be, how much innovation in technology and security will develop, and when the general public will be brave enough to make the leap. I get into bed, but suddenly remember that I need to put a coin in my wallet. If I forget, I won't be able to use a trolley at the supermarket tomorrow to do my weekend shopping.


Vincent Mirck,
Editor at Rabobank

Read more