Is it Time For A Cashless Society?

The very first sentence I spoke when I first moved from Australia to Las Vegas 10 years ago nearly got me thrown out of the cab I was taking from the airport.

What was my offense?

Well, I asked the driver if he had EFTPOS — and he had no idea what I was talking about.

EFTPOS stands for Electronic Funds Transfer Point of Sale, and it’s something every taxi in Australia has. Ten years ago, EFTPOS was nearly unheard of for cabs in Vegas.

As an Australian, I never carried cash. The country has been moving toward a cashless society for decades, starting by getting rid of 1 cent and 2 cent pieces in 1992. In 1996, Australia became the first country in the world to have a complete series of polymer (plastic) notes — and we’ve been wanting to go plastic ever since.

In Australia, similar to other countries, checks (or cheques) are in long-term decline. Until the 1980s checks were the main non-cash payment method — however, their use has dropped by 70% in Australia over the past ten years and is continuing to drop at a rapid annual rate. Today, checks account for less than 5% of all non-cash payments made by consumers and businesses each day.

The main reason for this is that payment cards and other convenient electronic payment systems have taken over. Also, Australia is non-tipping country — so carrying cash is not needed.

Australia’s not alone in getting rid of paper currency. Sweden is on the brink of becoming the first country to go completely cashless. Public buses don’t accept cash, and even the churches are taking debit cards for offerings.

Hard currency represents only 3% of Sweden’s total economy — in comparison to 9% in the rest of the Eurozone and 7% in the US. It’s not a surprise that Sweden is leading the way here, given its enormous emphasis on technology and innovation, but its biggest advocate may be a surprise.

One of Sweden’s biggest proponents of a cashless society is Björn Ulvaeus, one of the founding members of ABBA. Ulvaeus began advocating going cashless after his son’s apartment was burgled three times. He reasoned that if there was no untraceable way to sell what they stole for cash, burgling, fraud, and other financial crimes would diminish.

All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It’s a rich man’s world
ABBA — Money, Money, Money

His theory seems to have been proven. The number of bank robberies has plummeted in Sweden, as has money laundering, since electronic funds leave a digital trail that’s easier to trace.

Will the US ever get to a place where we have no need of cash? I believe we will — as evidenced by countries like Sweden and Australia who are farther along the path to going cashless.

I believe it’s time for a cashless society. Do you agree?