Current society is moving more and more towards digital and card-based payment. However, there is continued benefit to traditional cash payments that are difficult to replicate. University of Virginia professor Lana Swartz writes in the MIT Technology Review:
Cash is the best transactional tool for increasing community and individual autonomy that we have invented so far. It offers many affordances that prove hard to replicate. Cash does not need someone else’s signature to spend. It does not specify where you can spend it, or on what. It is anonymous: no one needs to know who you are for you to spend it. It generates no data about your transaction for third parties. It transacts without fees for the payer or the payee. You know how much you have on hand: it cannot be frozen in your account by an opaque third-party payment processor on a whim, or reversed by a scammer, or eaten away by fees until you tip into overdraft without realizing it. It does not rely on many layers of brittle infrastructure of both hardware and software in order to operate at the point of sale.
Although there have been historical issues with paper currency, there are key areas where cash continues to thrive, including serving underrepresented communities. Those communities may end up operating on different levels due to lack of access to modern payment options:
The future of transactional media might look something like its past. An industry consultant once told me that “in the future cash will be the ‘c word,’ not something nice people use.” Indeed, the future is likely to be cash-light rather than fully cashless. Those relegated to cash-only status will transact on unequal terms.
A potential scenario is a payments spectrum with cash on one extreme and cryptocurrency on the other. The remainder will continue to be filled in greater volumes with card and digital payments.
Overview by Jordan Hirschfield, Director of Research at Mercator Advisory Group