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March 17, 2016

Cashless Societies: The Pros and Cons

The days of holding cold hard cash in our hands may soon be coming to an end. Paper bills are tangible and reliable. They’re also analog and rapidly becoming antiquated, due to the penetration of IoT enabled devices in the payments industry. Entrepreneurs have been anticipating a societal shift to digital currency and mobile payments for years, and now governments are getting in on the action.

Thanks to its aggressive adoption of IoT, Sweden is on its way to becoming the world’s first cashless society, according to a study from Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Currently, 80 percent of payments in the country are made by cards. By the end of 2014, four out of every five transactions in Sweden was cashless. Swedes mainly use debit cards (pin required) and the mobile payment app Swish, which is largely responsible for the nation’s decreasing circulation of cash.

Eric B. Delisle, founder of the cyber security company ICLOAK, says the more citizens use cashless systems, which require a computer or device, the more people who have preferred living in an analog world will be pushed into the 21st century. This means new security measures will be needed.

But first, let’s review the positives of doing away with the iconic dollar bill.

What are the benefits of a cashless society?

In a perfect digital utopia, money is moved more easily. This is beneficial particularly for the poor, who can pay bills digitally without needing a bank account, thanks to mobile money platforms.

Kenya is a global leader in mobile money programs, and has been cultivating a cashless ecosystem for years through M-Pesa, a mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and micro-financing service that works with local Kenyan currency.

In Somalia, a country recovering from two decades of civil war, 51 out of every 100 people have a mobile subscription, and the country’s devastated banking system has been almost entirely replaced by mobile money. Using the money transfer systems of the Hormuud Telecommunication Company, Somalians can transfer up to $3,000 (USD) a day within the country. For many citizens of Somalia, carrying cash makes them vulnerable, as the region continues to experience social unrest.

By virtue of being traceable, cashless transactions can help prevent terrorist financing, money laundering, fraud, and tax evasions. Paper money tends to end up in the black market because it can’t be followed the way digital exchanges can.

How will going cashless affect security measures?

In terms of convenience and speed, going cashless is a sweet option. For the unbanked or underbanked poor people living in developing countries and in the Western world, having access to mobile money can mean the difference between life and death. However, for the middle to upper class citizen, the instant gratification that comes with cashless transactions comes with the same drawbacks that everything tied to the Internet does—security issues.

As we’ve learned from multiple hacking scandals, having traceable online information has its pros and cons. While officials can trace money in the best interest of its citizens, corrupt groups can just as easily track and abuse the system.

Delisle says the current state of technology is still dangerous with regard to a 100 percent cashless world for three reasons.

“The personal computer systems used to access account management or online shopping where credentials may be input, are being compromised at a greater rate than ever before,” shares Delisle. “Without using a specialized, secure system, users have no good way of knowing they are using a safe computer that isn’t stealing their credentials.”

Delisle says another factor is the lack of strong fraud detection systems among shopping sites. When it’s time to to “lock down” an account because fraud or criminal activity is discovered, cash backups come in handy. In a cashless society, many victims of fraud would find themselves with locked accounts and no way to access funds until the case is solved.

What do you think? Is it time to go cashless?


Melissa Jun Rowley is an award-winning journalist, on-air host, and content strategist with a passion for all things tied to social innovation. She is currently the founder and editor-in-chief of Incentivize, a digital media company focused on the convergence of capitalism and activism. Used with the permission of