Comment

Our future may be cashless, but it's not all good news

Contactless payment provides plenty of positives, but it's making us less aware of how much we're spending

Q: With many shops accepting only contactless payments, will we still be using cash in a post-Covid world?

A: There has been such a massive retreat from cash since March that the Royal Mint doesn’t plan to produce any more £2 or 2p coins for a decade.

Two years ago, when I offered a £20 note for three overpriced pints of beer in a London pub, I was ridiculed. My daughter pointed out that I was in a cashless bar. People paid with credit cards, smartphones and even their watch. 

I’m a bit slow to embrace new technology. It took me a while to get to grips with self service fuel stations, microwaves and even tea bags, but we all get there in the end. I’m now happy to check-in for plane trips online and put the boarding cards on my iPhone.

I’ve only visited one cash machine since February. It took four months to use all the notes in my half-empty wallet: three went inside grandchildren’s birthday cards, half disappeared when the credit card machine wasn’t working at a local shop, and the rest was used for gratuities (more chance of the real workers getting a sniff).

I regularly replenished my loose change, which was used to pay golf and snooker debts (we don’t play for high stakes). And the coins had other uses: opening tins of golden syrup, drawing neat circles and starting a cricket match. But if the Royal Mint forgets to go back into production, we will have to improvise.

There are plenty of positives. I’m told the cashless society should make money laundering more of a challenge and will help banks to persuade every customer to embrace digital banking. With less cash around, theft should decline.

But for some, its disappearance is really bad news. Amusement arcades will have to abandon their Penny Falls machines and make the rest compatible with credit cards. Churches need to convert their collections to digital and charity boxes will be replaced by credit card terminals.

I suspect that my grandchildren will soon forget about cash; they won’t recognise a £2 coin and probably don’t bother to pick up a 2p piece from the pavement. With family credit cards and digitally paid pocket money, future generations will be denied the pleasure of a brand new, crisp £20 note and the satisfactory jingle from a pocket full of silver. I still fondly remember florins, half a crown, silver threepenny bits and even the farthing.

Covid has all but killed off cash in my household. Jemima, my physio, arrives armed with a mobile credit card machine and our milkman wants a BACs payment – anything but money and certainly not a cheque.

I will miss handling the stuff. When working as a shop assistant, I loved cashing up at the end of a busy day, putting notes into £100 piles – a thrill that I recall each year when counting the cash when we open for the National Garden Scheme (how long will it be before a credit terminal collects the money for tea and cakes?).

I remember, at the age of nine, saving up for my first ten shilling note (50p) and bursting into tears when my mother insisted that I spent it. I can vividly remember queueing on my first day at boarding school to hand over my term’s allowance of fifteen shillings (75p) for safekeeping in the house bank, only to find the boy in front of me had a £5 note.

I suspect contactless payment is making us less aware of how much we are spending. Breaking into a £10 note has more significance than waving your credit card over a machine, without even checking the amount. I remember the day when I could no longer fill up my car (a Morris Minor) for less than a pound and when I had to pay more than a pound for a round of drinks (four large G&Ts at Gleneagles).

Perhaps cash still has a part to play, but we will know the game is truly up when the Queen’s Maundy Money goes digital.

Sir John Timpson is chairman of the high-street services provider, Timpson.

Send him a question at [email protected]