London busker Charlotte Campbell is one of the first performers to use a contactless card reader Photo: AFP

Times are a-changin' in London where cash is king

By Joseph Stenson

For centuries, London has sustained a street-level economy where performers and vendors make a living from the spare change of strangers -- but they are being forced to adapt as cash falls out of fashion.

Busker Charlotte Campbell, who sings for her supper almost every day in the shadow of the London Eye top tourist attraction, was one of the first performers to use a contactless card reader.

"Things are changing in London and people tend to use cards to pay for things", Campbell told AFP, before an afternoon gig. "That makes busking a dying art if people aren't carrying cash any more."

Between five and 10 percent of Campbell's income now comes not from coins tossed into her guitar case, but from people tapping bank cards on her reader -- set up through her phone to debit £2 (2.22 euros, $2.60) at a time.

It's a rising trend: a report from the British Treasury earlier this year revealed that cash accounted for 40 percent of all domestic payments by volume in 2016, down from 62 percent in 2006.

The same report predicted its share of payments would fall to 21 percent by 2026 -- bringing Britain to the brink of becoming a cashless society.

In January, the government spurred the process by outlawing surcharges for using debit or credit cards in shops, removing one of the only significant downsides to digital payments for consumers.

There are other signs in the British capital that businesses are cashing in by banning coins and notes. A number of lunch spots in the City of London -- the epicenter of the country's finance trade -- now warn customers with prominent signage that they are entirely cash-free. Others assume that card payment is the default at the check-out.

And some street vendors of The Big Issue magazine -- part of a charity scheme to lift people out of poverty and homelessness -- have also taken to carrying contactless readers to attract passersby who are not carrying cash.

At Christ Church in East Greenwich, in southeast London, helpers still pass around traditional tithing bags to collect donations from the faithful during Sunday service.

But Reverend Margaret Cave has also been recently deploying a contactless card reader to mop up one-off donations from her flock -- young and old alike.

"I've taken card payments from our 93-year-old member of congregation and some of our much younger people," she said. "You know it's safely and securely going through to your bank account, no one can take it -- so it's much better than having cash from that point of view."

But not everyone is sold on the benefits of moving toward a fully cashless country.

"The big problems of cashless society tend to be split into three areas," said finance expert Brett Scott, author of "The Heretic's Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money".

"There's the surveillance element, that you can be watched; there's the financial exclusion element, that you might be excluded from the system; and then there's a whole cybersecurity question," he told AFP in an interview.

He said banks, card companies, government departments and financial technology firms have all been engaged in a two-decade long "cold war against cash", attempting to convince the public that coins and notes are an unwieldy inconvenience.

"In some ways, you can think about this a bit like the gentrification of payment," he said. "They're trying to push all kinds of informal activity or non-institution-based activity into a kind of digital enclosure that can be watched and can be managed by large institutions."

Authorities are keen to move away from cash as the recording of transactions makes it harder to avoid taxes, as well as to finance terrorism.

But the homeless, refugees and others who struggle to secure bank accounts could be shut out of this new economy, Scott warned.

Recent history also seems to vindicate those with concerns about overreliance on card technology.

In June, 2.4 million British card transactions were affected by a Visa outage -- leaving pubs, shops and restaurants struggling to do business during prime trading hours on a Friday night.

© 2018 AFP

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

It would be very foolish to be completely cashless in life

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Once they have got rid of cash the government will introduce a tax on card payments.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I use cash when at home, I get looked at as if I'm a freak. So many restaurants and businesses refuse to to take cash now, it's ridiculous. Businesses are charged a small percentage by card issuers to process their payments, this is passe don to their customers. The more you use your cards, the more you help inflate prices and profit the card companies.

4 ( +4 / -0 )


As finance expert Brett Scott points out in this article there are drawbacks. Two that concern many are:

1: Surveillance

2: Cybersecurity

There is much evidence that big tech and governments are tracking us without our consent. A cashless society will only create more surveillance and monitoring of our daily lives.

Poor cybersecurity of our hard earned finances can incur irretrievable losses.

Our legal weapons in case of loss from the above are often weak as they have the weight of the law on thier side.

I don't trust these, usually nameless and faceless, people who are pushing this. The elitists, the people at the highest echelons of world and local finance and business and government officials who do thier bidding.

Perhaps I am being clearer now?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

When I was in Vancouver last summer, it was exactly as the above article claims- although no one told me I couldn't pay in cash, people just assumed that I would pay with a card. I paid in cash.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

“In London where cash was king”, surely.

Good article expressing my deeper reservations.

Having lived in Japan I cannot embrace a totally cashless society. So many horror stories abound with identity theft, security leaks, etc., outrageous problems continuing to pop up here and there. Paranoia rules. Are we sheep to be fleeced? Have we lost our independence? Honesty seems to have gone out of the window, and criminal gangs find cyber holes in the system.

Half cash and half digital may be good, where cards are no more than a convenient option, please!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In theory, a cashless society would be very convenient and I support this concept.

Unfortunately, we cannot trust the elitists who are pushing to convince the public to embrace it. They only have thier own interests at heart, not ours.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I was surprised that cash still accounts for 40% of transactions in the UK - most seem to have stopped using cash altogether, even for very small purchases.

I know a bar that doesn't take cash at all. Saves them a lot of cost and inconvenience.

Contactless payments have revolutionised things in only a few years.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I'm sure there are quite a few builders, plumbers and drug dealers who would be quite sorry to see the complete demise of cash.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

In theory, a cashless society would be very convenient and I support this concept.

It certainly would...

Unfortunately, we cannot trust the elitists who are pushing to convince the public to embrace it. They only have thier own interests at heart, not ours.

And you lost me when you started on about elitists...

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites