After floppy disks, cassettes and pagers, cash is about to become an object of curiosity for children, they no longer have the opportunity to see it. In supermarkets, only 5% of Quebecers pay cash.
And even for transactions under $15, in convenience stores or cafes, only a third of purchases are made in cash, according to the most recent Bank of Canada data released in December.
The transition to card payments has been quick and quiet since the start of the pandemic. Our collective fear of contracting COVID-19 from touching a $20 bill had encouraged businesses to no longer accept cash, forcing everyone to adapt. It was enough for the fashion of large wallets filled with cash to evaporate. Looks like we woke up one morning and the cash was no longer needed.
Suddenly, the shame or reluctance to buy a pack of gum with a card no longer existed.
Today in Canada, 22% of purchases are paid for with cash.
This compares to 33% in 2017 and 54% in 2009. Species decline has clearly accelerated in recent years. But we are still far from certain countries like Sweden, where 8% of purchases are made with cash.
In supermarkets, credit and debit cards are clearly popular with consumers. But the idea of arriving at an economy without cash worries, notes Dalhousie University, which unveils a study on the subject on Thursday.
First, 60% of Canadians believe that this would “discriminate” against people who do not have access to electronic payment methods. In the Atlantic provinces, the proportion climbs to 72%. In Quebec, it is 62%.
We forget it, but not everyone has a bank account. Quoting the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC), Dalhousie University reports that this was the case for about 6% of Canadian households, or 1.5 million households, in 2022. These people cannot stop eating because they don’t have a credit or debit card. American cities and states have also legislated to force businesses to accept cash for this reason.
For the moment, no such law exists in Canada, but we will have to think about this question one day.
The subject was briefly broached in the fall of 2019, when Decathlon and Time Out Market opened at the Eaton Center in Montreal. The two signs had announced that they would not accept cash.
Some people had risen up, judging that companies were obliged to accept bank notes that were legal tender in Canada. However, it is not. A merchant accepts what he wants. At the limit, but at the risk of losing customers, you might say, he could only accept small change.
Speaking of small change, 60% of Canadians believe cash is still important because it helps support charities that collect donations at the grocery store, the Dalhousie University study found. As Sylvain Charlebois, director of its laboratory of analytical sciences in agri-food, points out, supermarkets “are almost community centers by default, since everyone goes there and you almost always see someone in the entrance fundraising”.
This boredom is also experienced in the street, when a homeless person or a volunteer from La Guignolée reaches out to us. There is a solution for each problem: companies have invented ingenious systems for making small donations with a credit card.
Other issues that can arise in a cashless economy are much more difficult to manage. Think of breakdowns, for example. Last July, when the Rogers network failed, Interac payments and transfers stopped working. Normally, 25 million transactions per day are concluded in this way.
Added to this is the issue of personal information. One in two Canadians (53%) consider that a cashless economy “would pose a threat to their privacy”.
Digital transactions make it possible to collect data that is highly prized by criminals and cybercriminals. “Grocers may also use the data for targeted advertising or other uses without the individual’s knowledge or consent,” writes Dalhousie University.
In Sweden, experts predicted in 2017 that the money would have completely disappeared from the country by March 2023. Obviously, this will not be the case, even if the Nordic country is not far from having arrived there. There, as here, we are concerned about issues related to discrimination, security, privacy and technology.
Not carrying cash is very convenient, but the idea of a cashless economy has its share of drawbacks.