Following his recent trip to Sweden and Finland, John Murphy, one of our Non-Executive Directors shared the second in a series of blogs, titled ‘Murphy’s Musings’. In this entry, John delves in to the inclusivity issues in an increasingly cashless society.

Finland has some great food traditions; crayfish parties in August, consuming vast quantities of salmon soup, having a table heaving with all sorts of pickled herrings, the amazing Skagen and eating smoked reindeer and smoked elk (I have had both on a pizza in Finland).

Out of all these, my favourite is the great summer tradition of eating fresh peas from the pod, or Herneenpalkoja, as my daughter-in-law Jenni tells me it’s called in Finland. You can buy them in any market, shopping mall, train station, anywhere.

However, when buying some at a market in Tampere I was stunned when the stall holder asked me for cash. Cash? WHAT THE FINN?

It was the only time on my recent trip, in either Sweden or Finland, I was asked for cash. Fortunately, I had some “walking-about” euros on me.

The next day I sat in a bar with my son in the same town, where we ordered beers and the transaction was contactless, nothing new there; but in this Tampere bar cash isn’t accepted at all, its forbidden, or “Kielletty” as they say in Finland.

In the bar, using Google, we research cash usage in Europe and find that in Finland cash is used for 10% of transactions (seems a bit high from personal observation), in neighbouring Sweden cash usage is 8%, Iceland 8% and Norway is the lowest global cash user at 4%. All of these are decreasing.

Southern European numbers for cash usage are higher with Spain at 45%, Italy 30% and the UK around 35% and decreasing.

So, cash is dying? To many that’s inevitable but to me that raises a big question around inclusivity.

There are lots of comment across all forms of media about the ‘end of cash’ with retailers of all types driving towards cashless trading. I understand that of course. Why would retailers want cash? It’s horrible dirty stuff, and there’s a cost to handing it since banks won’t take cash from retailers without charging to process it. So, it makes sense that card or alternate payments methods are taking over.

However, Nick Green, journalist for Unbiased.co.uk warns: “The UK is at risk of ‘sleepwalking into a cashless society before it is ready” and “alternative payment methods may make cash obsolete by 2026 – but millions of people remain reliant on cash for everyday payments”.

In February 2022, the average fall in cash withdrawals across the UK was around 40 percent. By contrast, in some of the most deprived areas, the figure was half of this, at 20 percent… one can therefore conclude that there’s a connection between changes in cash use and areas of deprivation. An example is Liverpool Walton where the fall in cash was only 16 percent and this is ranked as the most deprived constituency in England in terms of health deprivation and disability and employment and is second in terms of income.

So, this question of inclusiveness, supposing individuals want to use cash? They want to use cash because it’s their preference and/or they will have more control over their budgeting and spending using cash. A huge issue today.

The Post Office’s banking director Martin Kearsley says recent data is showing that Britain is anything but a cashless society. He states, “We’re seeing more and more people increasingly reliant on cash as the tried and tested way to manage a budget.” Many people are resorting to “cash stuffing” having envelopes allocated to differing budgets; food, travel etc. So, cash is far from dead and will have a life for the foreseeable.

I don’t use cash anymore (although I always have some just in case), I don’t go to branches (remember those?) and thankfully I am not on any benefits. But millions of people in British society are and it’s clear that in those cases and others, cash is still a major factor; Nick states that 8m people in the UK (17% of the population) still, and will for some time, use cash to make most of their payments. I expect that number will increase.

Unfortunately, if some of them come to Finland or Sweden they won’t be able to get a pint in.

John Murphy, Non-executive Director, ea Change