Cash is no longer king…
What about people who cannot afford the data required to make the transaction?
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It was holiday-time in Cape Town, and my little sister – 50 years old, special needs – wanted to take us all for ice cream. “My treat,” she promised proudly, with her little pile of well-thumbed notes in her pink purse, so we all walked to the beach.
Except the ice cream shop didn’t take cash. Card only, said their sign. The urge to buy the ice creams regardless and then say “sorry, we only have cash” was huge, but I didn’t want to make a scene when my poor sis was there, all awash with her own benevolence.
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I explained, and her little face… “I’ll pay and you can pay me back,” I said, dutifully tapping, relieved that I had my phone with me because I hadn’t brought my purse. We were handed our cones: hers was sprinkled with disappointment, mine was a double scoop of frustration and rage. Ironically, tips were accepted in cash.
What about people who don’t have access to technology, to Apple Pay and banking apps, I wanted to scream? What about people who cannot afford the data required to make the transaction? Maybe they can tap with a bank card, but what about people without bank accounts at all?
What about the street urchins and the homeless guy outside? What about the parking guards and the pavement vendors? What about kids clutching pocket money? No ice creams for them.
In 2022, the World Bank said 84% of South Africans over 15 now have a bank account – though 40% of them still trade exclusively in cash – but that still means 16% of South Africans are simply unable to buy ice cream in Camps Bay. And it’s not just there: more and more businesses are going cashless.
It should be illegal, but it isn’t, even though not being able to participate in the economy leads to financial exclusion and to social exclusion too. Hard cash also remains the preferred tender of old folk, of illiterate people, of people in abusive relationships – or trying to escape them.
For many, it’s the only option. Additionally, using cash – that dread of breaking a crisp bank note – makes people more aware of their spending, less likely to impulse buy, and ultimately better able to manage their budget. Which means more money for ice creams. Or not.
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