Cold hard cash still on the rise

Published: 12 March 2018

Cryptocurrencies are much harder to spread around in colourful piles

Digital transactions don’t dampen cash use worldwide

Cryptocurrencies are much harder to spread around in colourful piles
Image © 2016 AAP Image/Joel Carrett

“Cash is dead,” has been the cry of techsperts for years. And it’s seemed an inevitability, since you can now wave a mobile phone to pay a bill.

It seems like only a matter of time until your bank account is hooked up to your eyelid, and you can pay your restaurant bill with a mere wink (followed by an awkward twitch for the tip).

But even though more people now use cards, mobile phones or even facial recognition technology to pay street performers, buy pizza or donate to church on Sundays, hard cash is showing no signs of dying out, central bankers say.

In fact an international study has found that cash in circulation has actually risen in recent years, from 7 per cent of overall GDP in 2000 to 9 per cent in 2016, although it has fallen in places such as Sweden, Russia and China. Australia has seen a small rise in cash stocks over that time.

The Bank for International Settlements says cryptocurrencies and the debate around them, such as whether cash will be replaced by virtual substitutes, are part of a broader debate about the nature of money.

The payments sector has argued that the use of cash is falling and therefore they don't need to provide as many ATMs or bank branches.

But in the BIS' latest quarterly review, researchers took a closer look at whether cash is becoming a relic of the past as some claim.

"Some of the breathless commentary gives the impression that cash in the form of traditional notes and coins is going out of fashion fast," said Hyun Song Shin, BIS economic adviser and head of research.

"Despite all the technological improvements in payments in recent years, the use of good old-fashioned cash is still rising in most, though not all, advanced and emerging market economies."

"The resilience of cash as a social institution reminds us of the importance of understanding the economic functions of money, beyond just the innovations in technology," Shin said.

After all, it’s hard for primary school kids to pay the school tuck shop by paywave. And far from the revolution of cryptocurrency, some of us are still struggling to use the ATM.

Still, debit and credit card payments are rising as well, from 13 per cent of GDP in 2000 to 25 per cent in 2016. People hold more cards and are using them for more and smaller transactions, Shin said.

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