Home Business News Pandemic Pounds: Is COVID-19 accelerating shift to cashless society?

Pandemic Pounds: Is COVID-19 accelerating shift to cashless society?

by LLB Finance Reporter
10th Nov 20 12:17 pm

A study of over 8,000 people in the UK reveals how more than half (51%) of UK adults say that they are now much less likely to use cash as a result of the pandemic.

An Exploration of Worth, a research report published today by online bank Marcus by Goldman Sachs, also reveals the nation’s attitudes to cash more broadly. It shows that the average amount of physical cash currently carried by UK adults is £36.30. However, many participants were found to have much less on them. A quarter (25%) said they were carrying less than £5 in their wallet.

The report provides a snapshot of what we as a nation perceive to be most worthwhile in our financial and working lives. Its findings suggest the pandemic has significantly impacted our attitudes towards cash, leading some to ask whether the pandemic has accelerated the shift towards a cashless society.

51% of respondents agreed that they are much less likely to use cash because of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Separately, almost a third (32%) said that they generally worry about hygiene when it comes to handling physical money. The research also revealed further quibbles around cash – 43% of respondents agreed that having to go to an ATM to withdraw cash is “annoying.”

Yet despite the apparent reservations of some people about cash, others still like to use physical money. While almost two-thirds (61%) agree technology is making it easier to manage our finances, over half (52%) of UK adults say carrying cash helps them appreciate the real value of money.

Amanda Le Brocq, head of strategy at Marcus by Goldman Sachs in the UK said, “We set out to understand through ‘An Exploration of Worth’ what people value in their lives today, and what they perceive to be worthwhile. As part of the research, we explored people’s attitudes to carrying physical money nowadays. Despite some having concerns about hygiene, and others finding the trip to the cash machine annoying, carrying cash is something that a significant minority of us feel is worthwhile regardless.

“So, while our research demonstrates that many are less likely to use cash as a result of COVID-19, we may see the way we use cash change once again as society adapts to life in the pandemic. Rumours of a cashless society in the near future could well be exaggerated.”

Demographic differences

The report also shows how demographic differences impact our opinions on cash:

Older generations are more likely to value and carry cash. For example, 41% of over 55s surveyed agreed that they worry if they don’t have any cash on them, compared to 28% of 18-24 year olds. Younger generations were also over 2.5 times more likely to believe that you should not need to carry cash in this day and age, with 41% of 18-24 year olds agreeing with this statement, compared to just 16% of over 55s.

Our perceptions of digital payments and technology also vary by age. Two-thirds (66%) of participants aged 25-34 selected being able to manage their finances digitally as something which is worthwhile regarding how they manage their money, compared to 49% of those aged 55+.

Men are also more likely to carry more cash compared to women. Of those polled, men tended to hold an average of £41.89, versus £30.51 among women.

Finally, having a higher household income does not appear to significantly impact the amount of cash that we carry. Those with household incomes between £15,000 and £30,000 carried roughly the same amount of cash (£37.10), as those with household incomes of over £70,000 (£37.19).

Iona Bain, founder of the Young Money blog and expert on young people’s finances, said, “This research shows a generational divide in attitudes towards cash – perhaps reflecting that many older people have spent most of their lives dealing with coins and notes, whereas young people have grown up in a world dominated by cards, contactless payments and digital banking. Thanks to the smartphone, we have seen huge advances in financial technology – or ‘fintech’ – over the past decade, much of it aimed at young consumers who are early adopters. Combine that with the hygiene concerns raised by COVID-19 and it’s hard to see how cash has a future.

“But I wouldn’t write off cash just yet. Many groups in society still depend on it, from small businesses to the elderly, and are keen that it survives. Plus, we instinctively grasp the value of money much more when it has a physical form – so cash will always be a useful corrective when we need to get a grip on our finances.”

Where are we going cashless?

The research also revealed the differences between UK cities and regions around the extent to which COVID-19 concerns have reduced the likelihood of our use of cash.

Location % Less likely to use cash due to COVID-19  
Birmingham 48%
Devon 53%
Liverpool 52%
London 49%
Manchester 46%
Norfolk 57%
Northern Ireland 53%
Scotland 53%
Tyne and Wear 47%
Wales 52%
Yorkshire and Humberside 52%


Locations selected based on representative sample sizes of at least 100 people

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