In Our Pursuit of Tech-Everything Are We Forgetting Someone?

Date Entry
May 31, 2019

More and more retailers are turning towards a cashless model by accepting cards and other electronic payments...and nothing else.  This is done to speed convenience - surely tapping your phone on a reader to get your morning bagel sandwich is faster than digging a $5 bill out of your wallet, getting change, and oh, make sure to leave a buck in the tip jar.  Some retailers also claim that cashless business is safer and more economical because there's nothing to steal, no armored truck deliveries, no taking an employee off the line to check cash in under dual custody, and no bank runs for change (a day's worth is quite heavy...).  However, some are starting to raise alarm that the very currency that has existed longer than just about every tech we rely on daily is no longer good enough to buy your morning smoothie.

The Philadelphia City Council recently discussed this issue, in the context that not everyone chooses to...or for things by card or other electronic means.  Ultimately they passed a local ordinance that requires businesses to accept cash.

There are many Americans (approximately 8.4 million) who don't have access to banking services and they often hail from lower incomes.  For these people, credit factors can be a barrier to opening an account, as are minimum balance requirements and even physically getting to the bank.  The homeless don't have addresses or enough available identification to bank.  Many simply live solely on cashed checks.  The concern here is that as more and more stores become cashless, those who pay in cash will have less access to the goods and services they are happy to pay for.  There is also concern that retailers would be further divided into where the rich shop, and where the poor shop.

And then there's kids, who across the board rarely have access to a debit card to pay for a soda.  There's also many people who choose to live off the grid and purposefully don't have bank accounts or credit cards.  Fortunately, more governments are becoming aware of the issue and are addressing it through local ordinances.  Several states and municipalities have started requiring that cash be accepted at businesses.

Though there's dissent to the idea of governments saying what private businesses can and can't do, there has fortunately emerged a middle ground that addresses this - gift cards.  The Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta has converted to a cashless concessions model, and supplemented cash payers by installing Visa debit card kiosks through the stadium.  There, spectators turn their cash into card payments that could still be used outside of the stadium.  Though its usage is low, the kiosks account for kids, foreign visitors, and more with little downside.  Such installations could be a compromise to allow all access to cashless stores while respecting the independence of businesses to do business as they like.

This article was based on a May 28, 2019 CNet article by Erin Carson

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