Cash may no longer be King, but...

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18 March 2009
Bob Meara
Lest there be any thought about cash going away, use of cash in the US continues to increase despite the rapid growth in the use of electronic payments. The Federal Reserve reports the dollar amount of currency in circulation has grown 88% in the past 10 years to US$770 billion in 2007 and US$889 billion in late 2008. Meanwhile, the amount of cash ordered and deposited through Federal Reserve Banks has increased 75%, to over 27 billion banknotes annually. This trend may seem reasonable in light of the US economic and population growth over the period. For perspective, per capita cash in circulation grew from US$183 in 1985 to US$2,537 in 2005 based on US Bureau of Census population estimates, or at a rate of 6% CAGR - well above the 4.2% inflation over the period. Cash usage is growing - absolutely. Meanwhile, cash usage at traditional point of sale locations has been remarkably steady alongside the dramatic growth in debit card usage. As a percentage of POS mix, cash declined from 39% in 1999 to 29% in 2008 according to recurring research by Hitachi Consulting. The data suggests debit card growth has primarily come at the expense of check usage at point of sale which has dropped from 18% to 8% over the period. There appear to be two dynamics at work. The first is our stubborn affinity for cash payments. Immigration trends as well as grey market economic activity also contribute to the sustaining popularity of cash payments for obvious reasons. Another factor has been the worsening economic conditions of late. 2008 has seen a return to an 8% CAGR of cash in circulation. The fourth quarter alone witnessed a 5.4% growth corresponding to US$45 billion in additional cash in circulation. This suggests the worsening recession impacted holiday spending, reversing the long-term trend favoring credit and debit card usage at point-of-sale. On top of that, there is clear evidence of cash hoarding as seen by the significant rise in the number of high value notes in circulation. Celent expects cash in circulation to peak in the next two years. So in addition to investments in alternative payment mechanisms, Celent encourages banks to revisit their cash logistics management systems. In many banks, there may be significant opportunity for cost savings. On the product side, a growing number of banks are being rewarded for their support of remote cash capture solutions. Remote cash capture will be the topic of a forthcoming Celent report.

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