Advancing Life & Work

The Cashless Society

It wasn’t long ago that you could be walking down the street and be lucky to find a twenty-dollar bill on the ground. Today, a large majority of people carry very little, if any, cash on them. Advancements in financial technology (fintech) have revolutionized the methods the world uses to transact and spend, as we evolve towards a cashless society.



Changes in banking and the financial industry are to be expected, and while cash has historically been the common go-to method for making payments and transactions, alternative methods are nothing new.

Driven by convenience and the need to secure monetary assets, non-cash methods, like promissory notes and checks, have been used for hundreds of years. Basic credit cards were available in the 1950s, and ATMs and debit cards followed. The mainstream use of online banking in the 2000s began the rapid shift to digital.

From a generational standpoint, many people still use their local bank branches for basic transactions, but with banking apps, most banking business can be done online, and a majority of the younger generations are rarely visiting banks, if ever. People can access their finances from virtually anywhere and at any time, and in 2021 that is only one factor in how convenience is driving innovation within the financial industry’s race to find the ultimate customer experience.

In 2019 there was a tremendous amount of startup funding aimed at the payment industry. Additionally, several of the largest payment companies merged, forming payment juggernauts responsible for a majority of global transactions. In 2020, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, there wasn’t much activity with payment companies, but according to research from the 451 Group, global e-commerce in 2020 exceeded $4 trillion for the first time with a year-over-year growth of 23% and with a 96% satisfied customer experience rate.

You might chalk that increase in online purchasing up to the fact that so many people were in quarantine, but an acceleration in digital purchases and banking was already evident before the pandemic. The quarantine made people interact digitally and become more comfortable with remote technologies used for customer interface (video, virtual assistants, AI, etc.).

Covid-19 super boosted the shift to digital banking and online transactions. As a result, e-commerce is on an upward trend with no end in sight, and one can speculate that there will be significant merger activity in the next year or two from the payment companies.

With all these increases in spending, new ways to spend are emerging. Credit, debit, and even PayPal aren’t options enough for consumers, and merchants with siloed payment infrastructures are going to find customers with full carts dropping off at the checkout.

Consumers are “sticky” with their preferred methods of spending, once they find a way that works for them, one that is trustworthy and fast, they don’t like to strike out and try new ways. And that includes at physical stores or person-to-person transactions. That makes sense, right? From a consumer’s point of view, if a method works well online, then it should be available offline too.

The US has been slow to adopt chip cards (EMV) but Point of Sale machines in stores and on gas pumps that allow customers to tap their cards to make purchases are becoming more popular. Contactless or touch-free payments were gaining in popularity pre-Covid but worries about contamination made contactless payments a key trend during the pandemic. Google Pay or Apple Pay enable you to wave your phone or smartwatch in front of a register to make payments. With Square’s Cash App, Venmo, and other popular apps commonly used for peer-to-peer (p2p) payments you can scan a QR code to finalize payments. Similarly, many stores and restaurants are using token-based payments within their apps, keeping your 16-digit card number hidden.

Still, the game for these banks, payment companies, and apps is loyalty, and many are turning to higher value-added services to stand out amongst their competitors. Some companies, like PayPal, are accepting cryptocurrencies. Apple has its Apple Card that incentivizes making purchases within Apple Pay. Google Pay is supporting metro passes, providing one more way to virtually load yet another card onto your phone.

The major contenders, including the banks, have created beneficial partnerships with other companies to provide exclusive discounts for services like tax-prep or insurance. Cash App lets consumers “boost” their purchases with their favorite stores and restaurants. Every additional service or perk is another potential reason for customers to stay within a platform.

Yet companies have to be careful with their offerings, they don’t want to appear gimmicky, a sentiment that younger generations see as insincere and disconnected. Companies can’t work around generational trends but must work with them instead.  Heavy with student loan debt and weary of incurring more interest fees, Millennials are tending to avoid making large purchases on credit cards. If presented with the option of making a large payment purchase on a credit card and paying interest on that, versus taking that amount of money, breaking it into four installment payments without paying interest on it, they would take the latter all day. Walmart, T.J. Maxx, and other retailers offer installment payments as a way to ease the burden of large purchases. For the same reason major card providers, like Visa, Mastercard, or AmEx now offer installment options. And the results are in, for today’s shopper, installment payments work.

The goal for providing the ultimate convenient customer experience will continue to influence how each of these companies use alternative methods for online and in-person transactions. Consolidating to create new verticals isn’t exclusive to payment companies, and as more major players like Facebook and Apple, with their super apps in India, continue to aggregate services and become one-stop-shops, consumers could find themselves never leaving their favorite platforms.

Certain nations are projecting to be cash-free before 2030, making the saying “Cash is king” a bygone phrase. So, is it a wonder that with all of the ease of spending, coupled with rewards and benefits offered by companies, that cold, hard cash is becoming a novelty? And as the world moves toward more digital transactions, the companies providing the services are forced to provide the financial technology, infrastructure, and the security needed to support this cashless society.

Delvon is a guest on this featured episode of The Element Podcast: The Fintech Imperative

Also available on:   Spotify    /   Apple Podcasts    /   Other podcast apps  


Delvon Jones
Distinguished Technologist
Hewlett Packard Enterprise



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About the Author


Delvon Jones is a Distinguished Technologist and Account Chief Technologist responsible for exceeding customer objectives using a long-term strategy, vision, and technology solutions. He brings over 26 years of experience in technical strategy and insight into customer business values. Delvon has worked at several global financial services firms, including Goldman Sachs, Alliance Bernstein, Commerzbank, and Prudential. He mentors at-risk youth in Florida and is the technology chairman on the board of directors for Be A Mentor, Inc. In his spare time, he enjoys flying drones and hiking. @Delvon_Jones