So even the modern beggar now knows that cash is on the way out. The banks want us to relinquish it and go electronic. If they can persuade all suppliers to abandon cash, we could get rid of some serious stress in our lives: car park machines that don’t give change; taxi drivers who look at a £20 note as if it were poison; queuing in the rain for the cash machine hoping we’re not about to be mugged. Of course we won’t be relying on credit cards – which lose their ability to be swiped at least two years before their expiry date. We’ll be using our mobile phones to check our finances, to carry out transactions, and to act as smart cards substituting for our cash. Sounds ideal.
But there are downsides. Won’t we miss the feel of money, its glorious crispness when new? Or the folded note pointed at the busy barman – will waving our mobiles have the same effect? Consider the terror and excitement as the pile of money mounts in a tightly fought card game – will a heap of Nokias create the same adrenaline rush?
Cash has the advantage of being blissfully anonymous. I remember my horror when American Express thought it was doing me a favour by analysing my card purchases throughout the year. I didn’t want to know that I’d spent £1200 on cosmetics, particularly after looking in the mirror. Also, any naughty electronic expenditure will not remain secret.
So criminals, and those of us who want to maintain a private life, will have to find a new way – probably some token system to indicate indebtedness.
And as this alternative is taken up by more and more people, a secure and international arrangement will be needed – based on a quality and quantity everyone can agree upon and check.
Perhaps the government is misguided in selling off its precious metal.
Beggar in 2005: ‘Can you spare an ounce of gold, love?’
Ann Baldwin FCA is a management trainer and conference speaker.
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