March 16, 2019

Financial exclusion and systemic vulnerability are the risks of cashlessness

"Access to Cash Review" confirms much that we have been warning of as UK walks into its future financial gridlock. From WolfStreet:

Transition to Cashless Society Could Lead to Financial Exclusion and System Vulnerability, Study Warns

by Don Quijones • Mar 14, 2019

“Serious risks of sleepwalking into a cashless society before we’re ready – not just to individuals, but to society.”

Ten years ago, six out of every ten transactions in the UK were done in cash. Now it’s just three in ten. And in fifteen years’ time, it could be as low as one in ten, reports the final edition of the Access to Cash Review. Commissioned as a response to the rapid decline in cash use in the UK and funded by LINK, the UK’s largest cash network, the review concludes that the UK is not nearly ready to go fully cashless, with an estimated 17% of the population – over 8 million adults – projected to struggle to cope if it did.

Although the amount of cash in circulation in the UK has surged in the last 10 years from £40 billion to £70 billion and British people as a whole continue to value it, with 97% of them still carrying cash on their person and another 85% keeping some cash at home, most current trends — in particular those of a technological and generational bent — are not in physical money’s favor:

Over the last 10 years, cash payments have dropped from 63% of all payments to 34%. UK Finance, the industry association for banks and payment providers, forecasts that cash will fall to 16% of payments by 2027.

Curiously, several factors are identified which speak to current politics:

  • "ATMs — or cashpoint machines, as they’re termed locally — are disappearing at a rate of around 300 per month, leaving consumers in rural areas struggling to access cash."

  • "The elderly are widely perceived as the most reliant on cash, but the authors of the report found that poverty, not age, is the biggest determinant of cash dependency."

  • "17% of the UK population – over 8 million adults – would struggle to cope in a cashless society."

  • "Even now, there’s not enough cash in all the right places to keep a cash economy working for long if digital or power connections go down, warns the report."

I have always thought that Brexit was not a vote against Europe but a vote against London. The population of Britain split, somewhere around 2008 crisis into rich London and poor Britain. After the crash, London got a bailout and the poor got poorer.

By 2016-2017 the feeling in the countryside was palpably different to London. Even 100km out, people were angry. Lots of people living without the decent jobs, and no understanding as to why the good times had not come back again after the long dark winter.

Of course the immigrants got blamed. And it was all too easy to believe the silver-toungued lie of Londoners that EU regulation was the villain.

But London is bank territory. That massive bailout kept it afloat, and on to bigger and better things. E.g., a third of all European fintech startups are in London, and that only makes sense because the goal of a fintech is to be sold to ... a bank.

Meanwhile, the banks and the regulators have been running a decade long policy on financial exclusion:

"And it’s not all going in the right direction – tighter security requirements for Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering) (AML), for example, actually make digital even harder to use for some.

Note the politically cautious understatement: KYC/AML excludes millions from digital payments. The AML/KYC system as designed gives the banks the leeway to cut out all low end unprofitable accounts by raising barriers to entry and by giving them carte blanche to close at any time. Onboarding costs are made very high by KYC, and 'suspicion' is mandated by AML: there is no downside for the banks if they are suspicious early and often, and serious risk of huge fines if they miss one.

Moving to a cashless, exclusionary society is designed for London's big banks, but risks society in the process. Around the world, the British are the most slavish in implementing this system, and thus denying millions access to bank accounts.

And therefore jobs, trade, finance, society. Growth comes from new business and new bank accounts, not existing ones. Placing the UK banks as the gatekeepers to growth is thus a leading cause of why Britain-outside-London is in a secular depression.

Step by painful step we arrive at Brexit. Which the report wrote about, albeit in roundabout terms:

Government, regulators and the industry must make digital inclusion in payments a priority, ensuring that solutions are designed not just for the 80%, but for 100% of society.

But one does not keep ones job in London by stating a truth disagreeable to the banks or regulators.

Posted by iang at March 16, 2019 05:25 PM
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