Covid-19 will fastrack Europe to a cashless society

Exante’s Communications Director and SiGMA Gaming Award Judge, Patrick J O'Brien, writes that efforts to eliminate human-to-human contact by the touching of cash during this pandemic has triggered a rise in contactless payments, clearing the road for a time where cash is no longer king as we exit into a new normality 

This pandemic has spread to many aspects of  our lives, But one of its early and unexpected impacts seems to be on case or, more specifically, cash transactions. Though it does not reference cash specifically, government advice says the COVID-19 virus can spread through touching objects that have cough or sneeze droplets from an infected person on them. Experts say cash does carry a risk of transmitting the virus, but the risk from cash so far is small compared with other transmission routes.

A scientific paper published early in the outbreak found the virus can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. The researchers, however, did not test whether it can live on banknote paper. The presence of live virus particles on banknotes does not mean they are a health hazard, public health experts said. Virus particles are unlikely to return to the air, or aerosolize, once on a surface.

A growing number of businesses and individuals worldwide have stopped using banknotes in fear that physical currency, handled by tens of thousands of people over their useful life, could be a vector for the spreading coronavirus. Concerns about coronavirus may be stymying cash transactions, but the use of notes and coins had been in decline for years. It had been predicted last year that Australia for example could become the Asia-Pacific's "first cashless society" by 2022. The Commonwealth Bank offered a more cautious forecast, saying that was likelier to happen by 2026. 

SiGMA Gaming Patrick J OBrienThe world economy even before coronavirus was entering into a somewhat recession and the pandemic has just made it worse. It has disrupted the global supply chain which has been a wakeup call for investors and individuals. In Europe about 80% of point-of-sale are still made in cash, worrying especially now. However, some highly digitised countries have moved steadily away from cash. In one of them Sweden, cash transactions accounted for less than 2 % of the value of payments in 2019.

Moreover, digital payments via card or apps are now so widely accepted that many consumers no longer carry cash and many retailers no longer accept it. The response to this trend has been ambivalent: some groups of older people have complained of exclusion, while children have increasingly been using preloaded cards for pocket money rather than cash. With the increase in popularity of digital wallets the range of payment choices available is increasingly broad. E-wallets can be used together with mobile payment systems, allowing customers to pay for purchases with their smartphones.

Bitcoin the world’s most well known Cryptocurrency could change the way we deal with cash also. Decentralized and digital in nature, it no longer has the central point of failure that made previous “private monies” vulnerable. And it is modelled to marry the two forms of money, physical cash and digital payments into an entirely new breed: digital cash. It can be transacted peer-to-peer, is permission less, does not censor people or transactions, and has a reasonable level of privacy if one knows how to use it. 

As the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak evolves, many people have been voluntarily staying at home to telework or have been asked to do so because of quarantine. Subsequently governments have adopted ever stricter restrictions to limit social contact to slow the spread of the virus. Such restrictions are resulting in e-commerce spreading even further to product categories such as groceries. For instance, in China, one of the countries most affected by the virus, fresh food related sales jumped 315 % during a 10-day period in March.

Generally, online and offline grocery stores are witnessing 'panic buying' and bulk shopping for categories like fresh food, household chemicals, personal hygiene and health. Some of these categories have seen 90% growth rates since the heath crisis started.  The phrase “legal tender” on all European money simply means it can be accepted to pay a debt or bill . The reality is both parties to a transaction have to agree to the method of payment. This means a business reserves the right to accept or refuse cash as payment at its sole discretion. Given the virulent nature of COVID-19, it is prudent that all businesses  think where possible about not accepting cash to eliminate one more avenue of spreading this disease. Everyone has to accept the rapid changing nature of daily life right now and get used to a cashless society for a while, if not permanently. 

About SiGMA Europe Virtual Expo:

SiGMA Group is excited to announce the launch of their November event, SiGMA Europe Virtual Expo. The online event, which runs from the 24th to 25th, will focus on the European gaming and tech marketplace. For more information about how to sponsor this event please contact Hamza and to explore speaking opportunities get in touch with Jeremy. To register for the expo click here

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