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Is a Cashless Society Really Such a Bad Thing?

By Or Perlman, Country Growth Lead UK at SumUp

The ‘British Countryside’ is a community whose pastoral idyll has long been a source of national pride, immortalised in verse by the likes of Wordsworth, Shelley, Burns and Keats. 

How tragic, then, that the latest report by consumer watchdog Which? indicates that it is these very same rural communities that are being financially isolated by the closure of more than 3,000 bank branches in the last five years. The news that the Yorkshire constituency of Wentworth and Deane no longer has a bank branch at all seems the exemplification of the issue.

these closures are the sign of clear opportunity to embrace a cashless future which democratises financial services for all.

These closures should certainly raise an alarm for financial providers, but the response shouldn’t be to return to the days of old. To us, these closures are the sign of clear opportunity to embrace a cashless future which democratises financial services for all.

Since the emergence of Chip and PIN in the mid-2000’s, there has been an expectation that we would reach this point. ATM’s had already taken the power of ‘access-to-funds’ away from the banks and brought it into the High Street. Then, the emergence of online banking and mobile payments moved this power from the High Street, to our wallets and smartphones.

Campaigns to save bank branches are noble in their intentions, but are missing the bigger picture. RBS, who shut 1,050 outlets between January 2015 and August 2019, not only closed their branches down because they weren’t financially viable, but because they recognised how the future of commerce was moving away from bricks and mortar buildings. We, technology providers, need to welcome and embrace this change wholeheartedly too.

Campaigns to save bank branches are noble in their intentions, but are missing the bigger picture.

Of course, there is no desire for anyone to be left without access to financial services. The issue is more about improving the universal provision of access to digital tools.

It’s no surprise that Which? reported that the majority of bank closures have been in rural areas – and the implications of financial isolation for these communities are very real. Instead of isolating communities, we should be providing a solid infrastructure of stronger Wi-Fi, access to faster mobile data, and easy-to-use technology which can support various payment methods and access to online banking. Formal digital training schemes are also essential for those normally considered to be left behind by the cashless society, such as the elderly.  

SumUp is a technology platform with a direct connection to over one and a half million merchants across the globe. From this perspective, we see first-hand how everyone – from taxi drivers, to beauticians, to local priests – improve their offerings to the consumer by embracing payment technology. When consumers can use cashless payment methods they have better access to products and services, as well as contributing to the growth of local businesses (our data shows small local businesses see a 40-60% growth when taking card payments).

Shelley, that bastion of the rural idyll, once wrote “fear not for the future, weep not for the past”, which is a mantra our institutions should keep in mind, when restructuring the financial future of these picturesque towns.

SumUp is a financial technology company that allows businesses of all sizes to receive payments quickly and simply, both in-store and online. 

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