Tuesday 22nd August 2017
In this issue of Money Truths….
Nightmare at the checkout till….
Dave can’t be with us this morning. He’s dealing with something that takes him away from his desk.
In his absence, we revisit Dave’s take on a dystopian future without physical cash – what it might look like, what it might mean and how it will be sold to you….
This piece is taken from our archive and was originally published in August last year. Over to Dave….
Picture the following scene….
You’ve just popped to the supermarket for a few bits. You fill your basket and head for the tills….
The checkout girl asks you if you need help packing your bags. You tell her you’ve got that situation under control….
You pack your bags carefully – making sure to put the heavy items at the bottom so that the bread, the salad items and the soft fruit don’t get squashed.
As the years roll-by, you have grown wiser about the finer points of bag-packing. These days you know exactly what to do to avoid an earful off the wife when you get home….
‘That will be £34.65, please….’
You reach into your pocket, take a card from your wallet and swipe it across the machine. The process is supposed to be over in seconds. But there’s a problem….
The machine is taking longer than usual to accept payment. Instead of saying ‘Pin Accepted’, ‘Payment Completed’ or ‘Please Remove Your Card’, the machine is stuck on ‘Processing Payment’.
It’s taking so long that people behind you are beginning to fidget. You think you heard one customer huffing and puffing. But all you can do is wait it out.
After another long minute, the checkout girl calls time. ‘Your card isn’t working.’
This can’t be possible. You know you are in credit at the bank. You ask her to try again. She does. You repeat the process. But the card doesn’t work.
It must be the card. It must be damaged. It must have grease on it. You try another card. That doesn’t work either…. And another. The same result….
Now you’ve run out of cards and you still haven’t paid. The queue has grown longer. People are starting to roll their eyes.
A terrible feeling of panic sweeps over you. Eyes examine you from every direction. You know exactly what everybody is thinking: here is a wretched man who cannot pay for his shopping…..
- Dirty money….
I know what you’re thinking. I’d be thinking it too….
‘Pay with cash. Put an immediate end to this awkward situation….’
But this is the future. A future not so very far away – but the future nonetheless. And, in this future, cash has been eradicated. It has been done away with. It no longer exists.
These days everybody pays for every little thing by swiping a card or a phone or the chip in their hand across a terminal.
There’s no such thing as cash any more. Nowadays accumulated wealth, income and currency are just numbers that represent credit in an account stored in the cloud….
It’s for your ‘convenience’. That’s what they said when they switched over to a cashless economy. But it doesn’t feel convenient right now as you stand like a plum at the supermarket checkout….
And it wasn’t just convenience legislators sold you on. It was crime-fighting too. Drug-dealers, gun-runners, smugglers and other criminals rely on cash. So do terrorists and tax evaders. ‘By taking away cash we will reduce crime and terror significantly….’
And cash was dirty in more ways than one. Every coin and note in your pocket was contaminated with the germs passed on by the thousands of unwashed hands it had already passed through.
For years that didn’t bother anybody. But in late 2024, as newspapers stoked fears about an global epidemic of a lethal strain of giraffe flu, the Department of Health declared cash a significant factor in the spread of the disease and announced it would be swiftly abolished to ‘protect the public and to retard the spread of this terrible life-threatening plague….’
A panic-stricken public were only too happy to give up physical money if it meant their children might live to see another summer….
In the end nobody caught giraffe flu. The threat never materialized. It never got any further than the front pages of the newspapers.
Government claimed this was a direct result of its swift response to the threat and that many lives had been saved by the abolition of cash.
Others questioned whether the disease ever actually existed – but these conspiracy theorists were rightly condemned as ungrateful cranks and dangerous trouble-makers with extreme views and wild ideas….
Afterwards government talked a lot about how the move to a cashless economy had increased the tax take…. how it had saved the public purse money by removing the burdensome cost of printing and minting notes and coinage…. and about how currency forgers had been put out of business….
Banks were happy too. Now – with the whole population completely at their mercy – they could impose transaction fees at will. And they did. They also took full advantage of new business opportunities….
In a cashless society the banks have a record of every financial transaction you make. They used those to create more detailed profiles of customers and their spending habits than ever before – selling them to marketers and retailers at top dollar. Profits soared. Bank stocks flew to the moon….
Everybody agreed that it had been a great success. There would be no move to reinstate cash now that the threat of epidemic had dissipated. There would be no going back….
Future crypto-stars are trading for pennies….
Bitcoin is frequently touted as a replacement for cash in the future….
Maybe that will happen. Maybe it won’t. Time will tell….
Right now, speculators who bought on the back of Bitcoin’s recent high will be wondering if they made the right decision. Bitcoin is well down from that peak….
But Bitcoin is not the only crypto-currency game in town. Tomorrow’s crypto-currency stars are currently trading for pennies….
- Your financial life support system – unplugged….
You tell the checkout girl you will return for your shopping shortly….
You go outside, call the bank on your phone and go through the automated ‘Customer Service’ menu….
You can’t speak to a human being though. Real people were stripped out of the banking experience years ago – not long after cash disappeared. They were deemed too expensive and too inefficient.
Automated systems performed much better – at least according to the banks. Customers are not so sure.
At least with a human being you can ask questions or get advice. With automated services, you are stuck with the pre-determined borders set by the menu….
You get nowhere. A short message tells you that in the event of problems with your card you should visit your branch to discuss the issue with a ‘manager’….
So you do. And when you get there and sit down in one of the ‘Customer Service’ cubicles, the robotic voice of the ‘manager’ on the intercom informs you of something that turns your blood cold….
You’ve heard rumors about this. But you didn’t believe them. You thought it was just hysterical newspaper hyperbole. You thought they were making it up. You thought they were sensationalizing things. You didn’t take it seriously. Now you wish you had….
Because the ‘manager’ has just informed you that your access to the banking system has been turned off pending an inquiry. And at this stage the voice of the ‘manager’ can tell you no more than that.
You might owe a financial institution money. You might have engaged in a financial transaction with an outlawed person, business or institution. You might have violated a law. You might have visited a blacklisted website. You might have engaged in a thought crime….
At this stage you don’t know what the situation is. Somebody in authority will contact you in due course.
In the meantime your connection to the financial system has been severed. You have been unplugged. You are not permitted or enabled to engage in commerce, trade or retail consumption until further notice. Your financial life support system has been turned off.
- If you appreciate cash – pay in cash….
Does it read like the blurb for some novel about a totalitarian dictatorship?
Maybe so. But my guess is that the scenario I outline isn’t far away from what will be considered normal and necessary in this country not so many years from now….
Maybe some of the detail will be different. But – make no mistake – we are headed for a future where physical cash is a thing of the past.
The tipping point was reached in 2014. Payments UK (a trade body for UK payment card-issuers) reported that card payments had overtaken cash payments for the first time ever – with 52% of payments made by cards compared to 48% with cash.
With the relatively recent introduction of ‘contactless payment’ and the on-going development of phone payment options, the direction of travel is clear – away from physical cash and towards a cashless economy.
The abolition of cash will be sold to you as vitally necessary for a variety of reasons – obsolescence, to fight crime, to stop tax evasion and avoidance, to protect the National interest in some way….
The reality is that a cashless society will place every man, woman, child and business in thrall to the banks and the state – forever. The currency you need to live – and your access to it – will be in the hands and the gift of those in power. And you can expect them to use that power to keep the population under control.
We’ve only really touched on this story this morning. But, next time you’re at the till, why not advertise your support for the continued existence of cash by actually paying in cash? You will certainly miss it when it’s gone….
The bottom line is that if we fail to use it, we will eventually lose it….
That’s a money truth….
I’ll be back with more next week.
All the best,