Cash or card in a post COVID-19 World?

When the coronavirus pandemic raised its ugly head late last year, it changed the way many people went about their day to day lives.

One significant change was a diminished use of cash.

Now physical currency has been in decline for some time, but suddenly the move to a cashless society was fast-tracked by the fear of contact.

This meant that in many cases, contactless transactions became the norm to try to protect the health of employees.

Cash was out. Cards were in.

So is cash actually dead or dying?

Yes and no. Certainly, if there is to be a death it will be determined by temporary or permanent changes in behaviour. 

However, we should note the use of cash has been on the decline for some time.

As Reserve bank of Australia (RBA) Assistant Governor (Financial System) Michele Bullock states: “Over the past couple of decades, the way Australians make payments has followed a fairly consistent trend. The main feature of this trend has been the decline in ‘paper’ payment instruments and the rise of electronic payment instruments …

“Use of cash for transactions has also been declining. The rise of cards, first credit cards and more recently debit cards, has been a consistent feature as well.” 

No doubt, we are using cards more than ever. And the range of cards make it easy. You can choose anything from debit cards, to low rate cards, cards with no annual fees, platinum cards if you’re a ‘hey big spender’ and business credit cards. Your choice of cards, many with different interest rates and benefits, is almost endless. InfoChoice has over 71 cards to compare just in the rewards credit card category.

Cash also took a battering when COVID-19 took hold

There were fears that cash was spreading coronavirus. The World Health Organisation was urging people to use digital payments when possible. 

China and South Korea began sterilising their bills using UV light or high heat before putting them back into use and quarantined their bank bills for 14 days in hopes that any lingering viruses would crawl up in a corner and die.

Even Mastercard Executive Vice President, Sandeep Malhotra got in on the dirty cash action when he stated, “The fact that 3 in 4 people intend to keep using tap-and-go after the pandemic is a strong sign that consumers see the long-term benefits of having a safer, cleaner way to pay, checking out faster and being more socially responsible.”

More people are using tap and go as their preferred payment option, however, there is no real scientific proof to back this argument.

That’s the good news, but there is better news for cash lovers.

Cash isn’t king anymore, but it is still vital

There are several major issues with giving up cash completely.

Some people just don’t like using credit cards. Why rack up debt that you know you’ll forget to pay it off or can’t pay it off, or have to pay fees on a product that you would otherwise have never paid? Certainly, businesses prefer to pay in cash to avoid extra overheads.

Contrary to Mastercard’s survey, a counter survey of over 600 people conducted by Next Payments found that 95% of consumers want to keep the right to pay with cash and more than 84% say cash-bans by retailers are unfair. Furthermore, 59% of consumers say they are discouraged from shopping at retailers that do not accept cash, while 74 per cent say cash is the most reliable form of payment. 

“Consumers don’t want their right to pay with cash taken away. Cash is reliable, free, private and flexible. Cash is used by the old, the young and the 500,000 Australians who do not even have a debit card,” said Next Payments CEO Tim Wildash.

While Mastercard and Next Payments both have their own agendas, it is likely there will be a need for several different methods of payment for some time to come.

Is cash dead? No.

Is it being used less? Yes.

However, as long as the treasury continues to print money, there will always be a need.


This update is not financial advice. This article is general news and information.

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