Banknotes featuring the King’s image will enter circulation for the first time next year, but for how long will those fivers, tenners and the rest be around? Whether we like it or not, and many do not, Britain is rapidly becoming a cashless society. Millions no longer carry what former prime minister Harold Wilson once famously described as the “pound in your pocket”, or, come to that, any cash at all. And why should they, now virtually every financial transaction can be carried out with a bank card? Petrol stations and supermarkets long ago shifted to mainly card payments, but now car parks, cafes, theatres, cinemas, pubs, motorway and bridge tolls, as well as most retailers, expect a card, with some no longer offering a cash alternative. Even in-flight airline services are now cashless.
The process is usually quick and efficient, especially with contactless payments, when a customer merely has to wave their card over the machine and wait seconds for the beep confirming the transaction. The shift to online shopping has meant surviving high street retail outlets have had to adapt to card payments to stay competitive, but not everyone is happy, since those who struggle with technology finding the change daunting, if not impossible. It isn’t always simple, particularly in the increasing number of car parks where drivers need a smartphone to download an app and pass over bank details before they can safely leave their vehicle without the threat of a fine. The Bank of England says that one in five still consider cash their preferred payment method, and cheques are now rarely used. But using cash can be extremely difficult, particularly as some banks in London no longer accept it. There’s also the longstanding view, backed up by university research, that spending with a card rather than cash often adds up to spending more.