IMAGE: Gary Stevens on Flickr (CC BY)

Cashless in Philadelphia? Not for the moment…

On March 8, Jim Kenney, the mayor of Philadelphia, signed a law requiring businesses in his city to accept cash payments from July 1, with few exceptions such as shopping clubs where membership is a requirement, car parks, hotels and car rentals where a credit card is required as a guarantee.

The measure shows the concern of some politicians toward a growing trend toward card payment only in the United States and Canada, as well as some parts of Asia, criticized by some as elitist or discriminatory toward the elderly and impoverished, as well as a potential threat to privacy. In 2015, I wrote about the potential benefits and problems of eliminating cash transactions and cases such as Sweden or India. The World Economic Forum has also weighed in on the topic and clearly this is a subject that isn’t going to go away. Amazon Go, which is expected to have more than 3,000 stores by 2021 and has already cut deals with many cities and airports, would clearly be affected by Philadelphia’s law.

Paying with a card is increasingly popular, along with other methods such as smartphone or apps like Venmo and Swish, even for small amounts. Growing numbers of us don’t bother changing money into local currency when we travel abroad. There is no doubt we are moving quickly toward a cashless society: it is convenient for customers and safer and cheaper for businesses, as well as more easily traceable, thus reducing the impact of the informal economy.

Against a backdrop of fast-moving technological change and adoption of new habits, growing numbers of businesses are simply standing by until the point when so few purchases are made in cash that they can legitimately tell customers they must pay with cards.

What are the authorities supposed to do in the face of this changing reality? Legislate to protect people on the margins of society, who do not have bank accounts or who are uncomfortable with new technology? Should they force businesses to maintain expensive and potential insecure structures? Should we as consumers fight for our right to pay in cash, or simply accept its demise as a sign of the times we live in?

(En español, aquí)