Cashless Britain - not coming to a town near you soon

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4 March 2015
Gareth Lodge
There have been a number of reports in the UK since the beginning of the year heralding a cashless Britain, suggesting that cash “dies” this week. Of course, I'm being somewhat tongue in cheek, but it was suggested that February 2015 would be the last month that cash was king. That's true in many ways - the share of cash on a total transactions basis will drop below 50% for the first time in the UK this year. But that doesn't really tell the whole story. Firstly, "not cash" isn't a single payments type of course. There are debit and credit cards, ACH payments, still (shudder) some cheques. Fact 1 - by volume of transactions, cash is by far the most dominant, as at 50% share, it's obviously the same size as all the other payment types …combined. So cash isn't dead, and not even mildly under the weather! Secondly, the decline isn't quite as dramatic as it may first seem. There are lots of new payment occasions being created (iTunes, mobile phone subscriptions, cable TV etc) that are electronic only. And conversion from cheque to direct debit generally sees an increase in payment volumes (ie quarterly cheques becoming monthly direct debit). Fact 2 The net result is significant growth in the overall size of the pie, biased to electronic payments - yet the share of cash has only decline by a few percentage points rather than the significant drop implied. This is particularly important to remember in the coming months. Early indications suggest a significant increase in contactless is coming. Fact 3 It's a migration from Oyster that will drive massive contactless growth this year, rather take-up of contactless. This is important as Oyster had already forced a conversion from cash, with individual cash transaction (ie for each journey) into a single top-up transaction. The switch to contactless is unbundling this back into individual transactions, albeit applying a daily cap. We're not saying that contactless isn't going to grow impressively, just we mustn't simply look at the headline numbers and draw conclusions. It's not all negative. That Oyster habit converted to cards will help create a contactless habit which will spread. Coupled with the raising of the limit of £30, and with many cash payments being below that value, there is the possibility to see some levels of cash replacement that could move the needle. Cash is far from dead but we are certainly moving into a LessCash rather cashless world.

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