During the 1980s and 90s, I owned a couple of Baskin Robbins stores which were mostly cash businesses during that era. On its way to our commercial bank account, the cash got counted a minimum of seven times: during the customer transaction, at shift changes, at the end of the day, when preparing the deposit, when making the deposit, etc.

Cash is certainly not always “king,” and when you think about it, cash can seem downright archaic.

Cash is still hanging in there

Yes, cash may someday go away, and in fact, it’s already close in a few countries around the world, but there’s something to be said about cash being the only survivable form of money in the event of a disaster like a giant solar flare or WWIII.

By “cash,” I mean bills and coins – not checks or debit cards, even though they’re tied directly to cash accounts. Those, in fact, are cashless options.

In many situations, cash may still be the only option for a transaction at our favorite store. Small retailers often don’t want the hassle of accepting credit cards or paying merchant fees that accompany these transactions. Further, in a cashless society, it may be difficult to pay the neighborhood kids running their lemonade stand or throw in $10 at an impromptu pass-the-hat charity event?

Some consider society’s cashless goals to be elitist. Pre-pandemic, an estimated 7% of the U.S. population was “unbanked,” i.e., with no bank accounts and with cash as their only option for daily purchases. In addition, many people are under-banked without access to banking tools like credit cards or online payment apps.

Solutions to some of these challenges are pretty clear. In time, lemonade stand kids will utilize social media-based payment accounts. Crowdfunding apps like GoFundMe and others provide on-the-spot options to support a good cause when the impromptu giving spirit moves us. Stubborn retailers will lose out on business to the point where they’ll need to provide electronic payment options.

The challenge of the unbanked and underbanked population, though, will be the last one solved as we’ll see below.

COVID Propelled the Cashless Migration

We certainly took a huge step toward a “less-cash” system during the pandemic. In 2020 we were concerned about contact transmission of the virus from currency and coins or any surface for that matter. Much of our commerce shifted to online. Many people began making all of their in-store transactions, no matter how small, with credit or debit cards because it seemed like a safer option.

Cash transactions were still possible, but soon we started seeing posted signs at store checkouts requiring an exact change or stating it might not be possible for the cashier to provide exact change due to coinage shortages. Pocket change was stacking up in containers at home instead of being kept handy in a change purse or pocket.

If it weren’t for the desire to give well-deserved, cash-based service provider tips during this period, few of us would have carried or used any cash at all during much of 2020 and 2021.

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