As a result, one in two French say that he has been using contactless payment more since the crisis began, according to a study carried out by the European Central Bank (ECB) in December. While cash trading has resumed between the two waves of the pandemic, it has steadily declined in daily transactions, while remaining a store of value.
Moreover, over the medium term, between 2016 and 2019, there was a clear decline in the use of cash as a means of transaction: while cash remained the preferred means of payment (59%) in 2019, it declined in value, going from 28% to 25%. France ranks among the European countries that used cash the least .
Those who hide behind the shift
Paying by card rather than cash is not an insignificant gesture. It has political, economic and social implications. The advocates for a cashless society are as numerous as the interests that drive them, such as the banks that see it as an opportunity to reduce their cash management costs, or the Internet giants that endeavour to develop payment applications to expand their economic activities.
It may be that some member states are also interested. As Yves Mersch, a former member of the ECB’s executive committee points out, the first of these advocates are part of the “FinTech team”, companies that combine finance and technology. Willing to promote their innovations, they see this as an opportunity to do business. Next ones are part the “law and order team” and are interested in increasing their control over population. Some lobbies are also involved, such as the Better Than Cash Alliance, a global lobby group whose goal is “to accelerate the transition from cash to digital payments in order to reduce poverty and drive inclusive growth.” Among its contributors are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CARE, the Dominican Republic government and Visa. In other words, a coalition of financial and philanthropic interests that campaigns for the abolition of physical cash, not only in the industrialised countries but also in the developing ones. This issue is not specific to Europe, however. In the name of progress and also to compete with China or the United States, international bodies such as the G20 or the European Commission also support the advent of a society where physical cash would be insignificant. For its part, the ECB is considering the launch of a digital euro, accompanied by a unified payment technology, “as a complement to cash”, according to its president, Christine Lagarde.
However, the shift towards a gradual abolition of cash payments is not new. According to those who advocate non-cash payments, the use of digital means makes it possible to fight against money laundering, tax evasion, terrorism and also the current pandemic. These arguments are questionable, since it appears that terrorism in Europe is organised with little liquidity and that large-scale money laundering relies more on financial engineering than on suitcases filled with small bank notes.
“In fact, the disappearance of cash would mainly penalise small fraudsters, such as independent traders,” says Franz Seitz, professor of economics at the Weiden Business School in Germany. Another argument the “anticash” circle put forward: the cost of managing cash. Printing, transporting, collecting and verifying banknotes generate significant costs for banks and merchants. It’s easy to