While the longer term trend is toward the demise of cash, the latest COVID pandemic seems to be fuelling a desire to hold more of it. The initial wisdom was that the crisis would accelerate the move to cashless, after all online shopping was booming and for those without bank accounts (apparently 1.7bn world wide) some form of government wallet would allow them the get the benefits of cash without having to actually hold it.
Federal Reserve surveys and data seem to suggest that while cash use at the till has declined slightly since COVID (only c. 25% of transactions), there has also been a spike in cash withdrawals. So basically Americans are using less cash but holding more.
US M1 money supply has been rising, and its been rising since well, way back to the 1990’s and the growth seems to have accelerated since 2010.
Analysis and Comments
At a time when the world is going more digital, it seems that in a crisis, we like to hold more cash for comfort reasons. Lets be clear, there is nothing to suggest that the trend to cashless shopping is slowing down any time soon, so good news for the payment processes.
The data still shows a slow & steady move away from cash for transactions. Although, as one expert says, it's so slow that the end of cash is unlikely to be in my lifetime.
Various countries are looking at going cashless. Sweden is the leader here, but the UK & NZ are also considering actions. The attraction for governments and banks is obvious (easier to track spending and reduced ATM costs respectively). We just don’t expect it to happen any time soon, despite the appeal in some quarters of digital currencies such as bitcoin
The problems are both social (poorer people have a greater need for cash, even if they have a bank account)& practical (“it is difficult to get cash to work in the way it is intended in times of heightened alert and war, if cash is not used to a certain extent in normal times as well”).
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