Mark Barnett, the boss of MasterCard in the UK and Ireland, believes that in five years time cash will be practically extinct in Britain and Ireland — and in 30 years it will seem as old fashioned as the horse and cart.
Barnett who was at the Money2020 conference in Copenhagen last week: “By the time we get to another generation, 30 years down the track, will there be any cash? I very much doubt it. The idea of carrying coins — 2p, 1p, 50p all cluttering up your pocket — it will be an anachronism. It will seem as antediluvian as carrying a pouch full of gold.”
‘In five years time the vast majority of the cash will be out of the system’
Of course, MasterCard would say that. The more people use plastic to pay for things, the more business MasterCard gets.
But Barnett points to statistics that show it’s not just idle fighting talk — Britain is already well on its way to ditching cash. Electronic payments overtook cash payments by volume in 2014 in the UK for the first time.
Barnett says: “We’re quite ahead of the rest of the world, because if you take the world as a whole it’s still 85% cash. I think in five years time there’ll be practically none. There will be some, there might always be some. But in terms of the number of transactions, in five years time the vast majority of the cash will be out of the system.”
Britain and Ireland are not alone either. Sweden has made so much progress toward turning itself into a cashless society that it now has 27% less hard cash in circulation today than it did in 2011; Denmark wants to allow shops, including restaurants, gas stations, and clothing stores, to stop taking cash; and the Bank of Korea has said it’s aiming for a cashless society by 2020.
Barnett says: “We [MasterCard] think a world beyond cash is a good thing. Wherever you find high levels of cash — I’m not saying there’s a causal relationship — but you get high levels of poverty, you get high levels of crime, difficulty in doing business, high levels of corruption, low levels of tax collection. I think in the end it’s a good thing, a world beyond cash.”
Apple Pay has ‘shaken up the industry’
Why are we seeing a tipping point now? Plastic has been around for decades after all. Barnett says: “It’s changing now faster than it ever has before [due to] big external factors — the first is technology. Let me talk about two of those technologies.
“One of the them is contactless, NFC [near field communication technology]. That’s been around for 7 or 8 years but it was really only when we got TfL [Transport for London] so you could start using your credit or debit card on the tube, that it really took off.
“We see that now spreading out. People get on this tube, then they buy their coffee, then they buy their lunch, then they buy a drink and so on. That grew five times in a year — 500%. What it’s doing is ripping cash out of the system very rapidly.”
“That’s also enabled another disruptor, probably the biggest disruptor in the technology sector in history and that’s Apple,” says Barnett. “The numbers aren’t huge with Apple Pay but they’re not nothing. We’re seeing hundreds of thousands of transactions a month. That’s shaken up the industry. Suddenly Android have announced they’re coming, Samsung have made some announcements, all with NFC-type solutions on your phone.”
How much more convenient is it really to get your phone out of your pocket than to get your card and tap? Apple and other smartwatch makers have found it tough to sell consumers on the big convenience leap of getting texts on your watch instead of phone. Couldn’t they face the same problem of small benefits in the payments space?
“If you’re competing on just the payment experience, the difference is marginal,” Barnett admits. “But a card is just a card and a phone has all sorts of other things we can do with it like loyalty.
“Everybody is trying to find what you bundle in around the payment to make it relevant. For example, if every time you use your phone to pay, you’ve already pre-loaded all your loyalty programmes, they automatically get populated every time, you can redeem in real-time.”
‘It’s going on to your phone’
Right now, this is something of a pipe dream rather than a reality. As Barnett admits, Apple Pay is far from mainstream yet.
He says: “I think loyalty is going to be the thing that makes people move to the phone. But it could be other stuff. People really, really like real-time transaction notifications. When you do consumer research everybody says, no I don’t want that, it will clutter up my phone. But when you actually do it, they love it. It just shows you, chuck out your research.”
MasterCard itself is experimenting with new phone-based innovations to try and win people over, for example an app that lets you pay a restaurant bill on your phone and cut out the hassle of waiting for the bill. Or selfie pay, technology that allows facial recognition for authenticating purchases or even a NFC-enabled ring that can you pay with.
Barnett concludes: “I think if there’s one thing we can say about where payments are going, it’s going on to your phone. In a few years times, most of your transactions will go through your phone. There’ll always be a card in the background and there’ll always be a little bit of cash. But it’s all going to the phone and there’s a race to see which solution can capture the most [customers].”