You’ve probably heard someone say it: “I never carry cash anymore.”
Technology makes it easy with things like direct deposit, mobile banking, digital wallet apps, electronic toll collection and the constant flow of innovation. Sure, there’s that hole-in-the-wall restaurant that demands cash, a parking meter that requires change and a cabbie who doesn’t process plastic, but these situations are avoidable for people who live cash-free.
In the U.S., 80% of total consumer payments are made without cash, according to a study from MasterCard. Its report “Cashless Journey” analyzed payment behavior in 33 countries on six continents representing 85% of global gross domestic product.
It may or may not surprise you that the U.S. ranks eighth for cashless transactions, falling behind mostly western European countries. The study divided countries into four stages of cashlessness: Nearly Cashless, Tipping Point, Transitioning and Inception.
The Nearly Cashless Countries
The methodology for determining these categories depended on the share of cashless transactions, which is that 80% figure for the U.S.; trajectory toward being cashless, which quantified the shift toward cashless transactions between 2006 and 2011; and readiness, which looked at a country’s potential to move toward a cashless economy, based on observations of mostly cashless countries.
Based on the study, these countries have been deemed nearly cashless and are ranked by their share of cash-free transactions:
1. Belgium (93%)
2. France (92%)
3. Canada (90%)
4. Tie: United Kingdom and Sweden (89%)
6. Australia (86%)
7. Netherlands (85%)
Among Nearly Cashless countries, the trajectory scores were low, as much of the movement toward cash-free transactions has been made, and the readiness scores were high. The numbers were less consistent in other categories, with governments sometimes pushing the trajectory, and infrastructure sometimes holding back readiness, for example.
How Other Countries Compare
The U.S. was among Tipping Point countries, joined by Germany, Korea, Singapore and Japan. These countries exhibited a high level of readiness for a cashless society, but the lower shares of cash-free transactions indicated other factors, like cultural norms, were leading consumers to use cash, despite the ability to do otherwise.
As for the countries just starting to move toward cashlessness (Inception countries), the share of cashless payments made up between 7% and 32% of consumer transactions, with Egypt bringing up the rear. India registered that 32% figure, followed by Russia, Indonesia, Kenya, United Arab Emirates, Colombia, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Egypt.
As noted in MasterCard’s report, cash can be considered less secure than credit or debit cards. For instance, if someone steals a wallet, the owner isn’t going to see that money again, whereas he or she can cancel the credit or debit cards and dispute any fraudulent charges that may occur. Cards also give access to online shopping and bill payment, which can be great for one’s personal finances. At the same time, storing financial information online can invite identity thieves, so consumers need to keep an eye on their digital finances just as they would protect a wallet full of cash.