Cashless: The future of spending post-COVID-19

Cashless: The future of spending post-COVID-19

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It’s hard to remember life before Covid-19 because the pandemic has changed how we enjoy food, socialise and spend money. From pubs and restaurants switching to delivery only, offices adapting to remote working and friends using networking software to catch up, there have been many changes. But perhaps the most prominent is the way we spend money. 

In this post, we’ll look at the impacts of Covid-19 on society and how it’s moving us towards becoming a cashless society. 

The Impact of Covid-19 on Society

Nobody was prepared for Covid-19 and the devastating effects it would have on countries around the world. While the pandemic originates from China, it soon spread around Europe, America and developing countries. 

Women particularly suffer the impacts of Coronavirus because higher numbers work in health, education and vocational industries, including schools, accommodation, food services and social care. 

The closure of schools also means more people have taken on homeschooling duties, leaving them little time to find alternative work. 

In the UK alone, 700,000 people live below the poverty line (The Guardian), and the tourism industry is also suffering due to a travel ban. 

While there have been many changes in our lives, the most prominent is how we spend money and the remarkable shift towards becoming a cashless society. 

Many are wondering if society will remain cashless with takeaway chains and essential shops asking people to use their contactless cards to make payments. 

How Has Spending Changed Over Time? 

To understand why Covid could have a lasting impact on our spending habits, it’s essential to look at how consumer needs and evolving technologies have changed over time. 

In 1694, the way people traded money and acquired gifts would change forever with The Bank of England’s introduction. 

People could deposit gold and other valuable materials in exchange for a banknote that they could use as proof of wealth. As time went on, the gold standard became the common way for recognising currency in the UK, and by 1844, every town had a bank. 

Most of the banks you’re familiar with today, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, originated during this time, with private bankers often joining together to create the nationally recognised high street banks we use today. 


Once considered a staple for every bank account holder, cheques no longer hold the level of importance they used to. Originating in the 17th Century, Goldsmiths would use cheques to simplify banking transactions. 

Today, having a cheque book is no longer essential because internet banking makes it easier to send and receive money without waiting for a cheque to clear. While older generations still use cheques, Statista shows a steady decline since 2008, attributable to newer and more convenient technologies. 


The Bank of England began to print banknotes in 1745, and for many years they were the most popular way of purchasing goods. People could carry banknotes and coins around, meaning they could pay for items immediately instead of worrying about when a cheque would clear. 


Perhaps the most significant change to how we handle money is the introduction of credit and debit cards. Credit cards enable you to purchase items even if you don’t have the immediate funds. Most credit accounts have minimum payment amounts, and it’s easy to get into debt. 

Debit cards only let you use the money in your account to make payments, which means you can’t spend what you don’t have unless your bank agrees to issue an overdraft amount. Surprisingly, credit cards are a lot older than debit cards, but most people pay for their meals out, grocery shopping and other essentials with a debit card. 

The way we use cards to pay for items continues to use new technology to evolve. What initially started as a swipe and sign system turned into chip and pin. Today, it’s all about contactless payments making the purchasing experience more effortless than ever. 

Internet Banking/Apps 

Many years ago, people couldn’t access their money without going into their local bank. Cash machines made it easier to withdraw funds, but to set up regular payments and open new accounts, customers had to wait in queues. The emergence of the internet has drastically changed the way we operate in so many ways. 

It’s hard to imagine life before the internet, but we did once exist without it. An article published by CNBC shows the most significant ways the internet has changed the world and how society operates. 

Internet banking is one of the most critical advancements globally because it enables people to manage their money from wherever they are. 

There are many advantages to internet banking, including: 

  • You can move money from wherever you are.
  • Transfers usually happen instantly, but you have to wait at least three days for cheques.
  • You’re able to make payments with your phone. 

With all of the benefits that credit and debit cards offer, it’s easy to see why people prefer to use them over cheques or carrying cash around. It’s precisely the same for internet banking. 

If there’s a choice between standing in a queue waiting for a bank cashier to see you or logging onto an internet bank while you’re binging on Netflix, most will choose the latter. 

While the shift from cash to cards has been a dramatic one, nobody would have thought that 2020 would be the year when consumer habits would completely change. 

The Covid Pandemic & Going Cashless: The Good & Bad

Covid has changed the way we live and spend money, but is it going to turn us into a cashless society? In 2019 a study published by UK Finance showed that although card payments were the most popular form of transaction, cash came in at a close second. 

When the pandemic hit the UK, it became clear that essential shops would have to change the ways they operate to ensure each customer’s health and safety. 

If we look at the shift in how retailers accept payments, we can see the gradual move towards becoming a cashless society. 

No Cash Please 

One of the most prominent concerns of Covid is how easily it spreads. Before the pandemic, people could go into a shop and pay with their card or cash. But shops had to make changes to promote health and safety, with the most important being supermarket chains and takeaways only accepting contactless payments. 

To accommodate contactless payments, the limit increased from £30.00 to £45.00, and online shopping became the best way to purchase items. 

For the past year, we haven’t been able to use cash in the ways we used to, which means our demand for it is lower than ever. According to Finextra, ATM usage in the UK has dropped by 60% during the lockdown, with people using their debit cards and mobile phones to pay for items. 

The Impact on Society 

For many people, contactless payments are a way of life, and cash is something you carry as an extra security measure. Millennials and Gen Z are the most adaptable age groups, and most prefer using their cards or mobile to purchase items. 

But what about the older generations? According to statistics published by Age UK, over 2.3 million people over 70 don’t have an internet connection, so a cashless society would impact their lifestyle and ability to live independently. 

There would also be issues with learning how to budget effectively online, fewer reasons to leave the house resulting in higher social isolation and depression levels and becoming easier targets for scammers. 

Safety Takes Priority 

While some people don’t support the restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the virus, most are willing to follow guidelines to protect themselves and others. 

While contactless cards offer a safe way to pay for items, cash doesn’t have the same advantage. Notes and coins changing hands could easily help the virus move more freely, and most people don’t want to take that risk. 

ATMs are also points of concern for people because something as simple as pressing a few buttons could lead to contracting Covid-19. 

The fact is that people are more cautious than ever before and know that Covid doesn’t discriminate. Anybody can contract the virus, which means safety hazards such as avoiding ATMs and handling cash are now avoided. 

The Impact 

Access to ATMs is essential for older generations, but most know that they’re not always reliable. It’s common to see the machine out of order message, so debit cards and mobile payments are essential for purchasing items. 

One of the main reasons people carry cash is for a sense of security, but with more taxi companies offering cashless payment systems, it no longer holds the importance it used to. 

While countries worldwide begin to implement Covid-19 vaccinations, it’s important to remember that other illnesses such as flu exist and are spreadable by human contact. 

Fewer cash exchanges could reduce the risk of contracting viruses and create a healthier society in general. 

Fewer Financial Crimes 

Criminals thrive with cash because it’s easy to move around, and there’s rarely a paper trail. If we become a cashless society, there will be fewer opportunities for pickpockets and opportunistic criminals. 

We do, however, need to think about hackers and how they can easily breach financial institutions. As the Fintech industry continues to progress, the emphasis is on cybersecurity and how to offer customers protection while not impacting their experience. 

One major issue with the Fintech industry is how focused it is on younger people. Older generations need more support to access and understand platforms because they’re most at risk of cybercrime. 


The initial idea of e-commerce was conceived in 1979, but it became accessible to the public in 1991. Amazon is one of the first e-commerce companies to take advantage of the world wide web, and while technology continues to progress, one thing remains the same: people love to shop online. 

With Covid-19 lockdowns forcing high street retailers to close their doors, more people turn to the internet for some retail therapy. As consumer habits often dictate how society will change in the future, we can look at e-commerce vs the high street to see how it contributes to the possibility of a cashless society. 

Online Shopping is More Popular Than Ever 

The days of high street shopping could be coming to a close, and we can’t place all of the blame on the pandemic. For many years now, e-commerce has been a convenient way to shop, with many people avoiding busy weekend queues by ordering their items online. 

Busy working weeks and family commitments mean people don’t have the time anymore to go for a stroll around the shops. Retailers knew that Covid would dramatically impact their business, and many succumbed to the virus. 

The biggest victims include: 

  • Topshop – The clothing giant will close all of its physical stores, but the products will still be available on Asos. 
  • Miss Selfridge – Also purchased by Asos, Miss Selfridge will no longer have a physical presence. 
  • Dorothy Perkins – Purchased by e-commerce giants Boohoo with no physical stores. 
  • John Lewis – Will remain in operation but is closing six of its department stores, resulting in over 1000 job losses. 
  • Oliver Sweeney – The shoe retailer is closing all of its physical stores but will continue to sell online. 

What’s most interesting about these closures is how fashion giants are falling, and their e-commerce counterparts continue to thrive. The shift from high street shopping to online has steadily grown in the past few years, and most physical stores are unable to sustain due to high rental rates and forced closures. 

We cannot attribute the change in shopping habits to Covid-19 because brands such as Mothercare and Toys R Us went into administration before the virus. If anything, the pandemic has sped up the inevitable shift to online shopping, and physical shops haven’t had the time to prepare themselves. 

Charities are Struggling 

Of all of the sectors in the UK, charitable organisations have been hit the hardest. They’re needed more than ever but are also struggling to find the funding to remain in operation. 

Covid-19 related deaths mean more animals require support, and job losses impact low-income families. 

Food banks, animal shelters, and charities for the elderly struggle to deal with the demand for support with regular donors favouring Covid-19 and NHS related organisations. The restrictions mean it’s hard to canvas for help, and fewer people are carrying cash. 

Cashless QR Codes 

Luckily, forward-thinking not for profit organisations can take advantage of the shift to online spending by implementing cashless QR codes on their websites and within physical locations. 

Cashless QR codes are an excellent way to generate more donations because they offer a convenient way for people to give money to a cause. Each organisation that signs up to has a unique QR code. Whenever someone donates, it goes straight to the allocated account. 

Will We Become a Cashless Society?

While Covid-19 is playing a significant role in moving towards cashless payments, you should think of it as more of an accelerant than the root cause. From card payments to e-commerce and contactless integrations, the shift towards becoming a cashless society was present long before the pandemic. 

With bitcoin and mobile wallets taking centre stage, it’s clear that people are moving towards cashless systems because they’re easier to manage, and there’s a lower risk of losing money. Facebook is also embracing cryptocurrency by partnering with The Diem Association to offer individuals without bank accounts a way to send and receive money through the platform. 

Sweden Paves The Way For The World 

By 2023, Sweden will become the worlds first cashless society. The country will stop accepting cash on March 4th that year, focusing solely on electronic payments. 

As a country known for embracing new technology, Sweden was the first in Europe to adopt the banknote. In 1661, banknotes were issued by the Bank of Stockholm, paving the way for the rest of Europe. 

If we look at the impact Sweden has on technological advancement; we can see that as an innovation leader, the country could inspire others to follow its example of 100% electronic payments. 

Most retailers, restaurants and even public transport services don’t accept cash, so while others in Europe might see the countries move as drastic, the public is more than ready to go cashless. 

The Swedish government hopes that a 100% cashless society will discourage crime and make the country even safer than it already is. 

As Sweden’s central bank backs the introduction of the e-Krona – a digital currency for the country – it will help the public move towards becoming 100% cashless. 

The Bottom Line 

While the UK isn’t ready to go entirely cashless, it seems that the coming years will see the country move towards electronic payments, with coins and banknotes gradually disappearing. 

As a country that places a strong emphasis on respecting your elders, it’s unlikely the UK will go cashless in the next few years. But while society might not completely embrace electronic payments and currency, younger generations will most likely choose to go cashless and pave the way for future generations. 

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