When did you last write a cheque? While some small local businesses still deal in cash or cheques, the last decade has seen the move towards a cashless society gather speed. Card payment is now the accepted norm in retail and hospitality outlets, with self-service checkouts further automating the purchase process. Outside of the retail field, many organisations now operate a smart card system, taking the idea of cashless payment to the next level.
But does everyone support the changes – and who really stands to benefit?
Cheques are expected to be phased out by 2018. There are those that argue scrapping cheques makes environmental sense but cost is also a key driver, both for the banks who are looking to reduce printing costs and retailers who incur a processing charge of up to £1 per transaction. The move to end cheques has raised a good deal of controversy, and cash is still the preferred method of payment for consumers according to the British Retail Consortium.
Utilities and service companies are also are applying pressure on consumers in a bid to streamline administrative costs, by imposing penalties for customers who do not pay by direct debit or insisting on signup for new subscribers. Other services can only be accessed by credit card or on-line payment.
Older people in particular are suffering, with many cautious of using machines in the face of widespread publicity about card fraud, confused by the technology or lacking direct internet access. There is also a social aspect. Automated shopping may serve to further isolate vulnerable people such as pensioners by removing opportunities for getting out and talking to others.
For smaller retail businesses, the cost of investing in the technology can be off-putting. Going forward, the need to compete with other businesses may well be a deciding factor in driving eventual uptake.
There is no doubt that cashless payment offers the potential to deliver greater convenience and choice to meet the ever-growing expectations of demanding consumers. Being able to adapt to and exploit new technologies is also a skill that any business needs to acquire to succeed in the modern world. But maybe it’s time to put the brakes on a little and do more to bring people with us, instead of driving them where they may not yet feel ready to go.
What’s your view?