How is Technology Bringing us Closer to a Cashless Society?

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about the impending cashless society – that is, a society that no longer uses traditional currency such as notes or coins, but instead opts for electronic methods to pay for 100% of its payments – and how it’s going to revolutionise the way we buy and sell around the globe.

Those in favour of such an economy claim that cashless technology is faster, more convenient, and more secure than physical money.

While those against it believe the opposite; that electronic payment systems pose more of a security risk than cash, that current systems are not reliable enough and that a cashless economy could result in a surveillance state. No matter what your view point, a completely cashless society is closer than you may think. At least for some countries.

Earlier this week it was reported that Australia is expected to be cashless by 2022, and back in May it was announced that Denmark is expected to be completely cashless by 2016. But what about us Brits – are we ready to trade our hard cash for electronic payments?

Cashless systems already in place in the UK

For some of us at least, a cashless economy might as well already be in place in the UK. Ask yourself how many cashless transactions you’ve made over the past month. From using credits cards in shops and bars, to paying bills by Direct Debit, to buying your monthly travel card online, many of us are opting for electronic payments without even thinking about it. Would going completely cashless make that much of a difference to how we spend today?

As modern as terms like cashless, contactless and frictionless might sound, we have in fact been using forms of cashless currency for a long time. Cheques were first introduced to the UK way back in the 1700’s for example. Credit cards were brought in the 1950’s and have since been updated by Chip and Pin and contactless technology.

With the birth of the internet we saw the rise of online shopping which made way for streamlined payment platforms like PayPal. Mobile payments have also been gaining popularity in more recent years with 13% of people using their phones to make purchases in 2014. It was announced earlier this year that cashless payments in Britain overtook cash for the first time, making up 52% of all transactions.

Innovative cashless applications

The search for a completely secure yet user friendly payment system has given birth to some imaginative ways to buy. As mentioned above mobile payments are already increasing in popularity, and finance companies are taking them a step further with the application of biometric technologies.

Apple Pay is a successful example of mobile biometrics technology that many of us are already using. With Apple Pay, phones are ready to make purchases before even being lifted from a shopper’s pocket. Once at the checkout the device is simply held over a card machine, followed by a fingerprint scan on the shopper’s mobile device and they’re ready to leave with their goods.

MasterCard has also been trialling biometric payments with their new ID Check app – a facial recognition application that lets users pay by selfie. Simply point the camera at your face, blink, and you’re done.

Depending on which side of the fence you stand, the next example is either the creepiest or most exciting payment method so far. The Nymi Band is a wearable device that not only allows users to make seamless and secure payments, it can also be used to unlock doors by proximity, automatically unlock devices and store all of your passwords amongst other things. The creepy (or exciting) part is that it uses your heartbeat as verification. Throughout the day it continually tracks the user’s unique electrical heart signature to keep them signed in to their Nymi profile.

No matter how many new payment services technology brings us though, the success of a cashless economy ultimately relies on a population that is ready for change.

Banks and businesses will have to ensure their systems are fast, reliable and secure if they are going to sway all of their customers and gain nationwide trust.

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