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UK cash payments could be nearly eliminated by 2026

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If the current trend of declining cash usage in the UK continues, the country could become an entirely cashless society in just five years, according to Merchant Machine.

With the pandemic accelerating the decline in cash usage, 2020 saw a 10 per cent decrease in the number of ATMs available to UK cardholders, the study from the comparison site showed.

While making up just over 50 per cent of payments in the year 2000, this has declined by around 10 per cent every five years to a low of just 12.4 per cent in 2020. If the trend continues, the study estimates that just 0.5 per cent of payments will be made with cash in 2026.

Young millennials were found to be the primary users of mobile payments apps in 2019 with 41 per cent stating that they had switched to apps for payments (22 per cent higher than the previous year). 

Around 38 per cent of senior millennials also switched to a mobile app for payments, followed by Gen Xers (14 per cent) and then Baby boomers (5 per cent).

But with more than two million Brits still thought to be almost entirely reliant on cash in their daily lives, particularly the elderly, vulnerable and those in rural communities, the government announced the launch of a ‘click and collect’ scheme last week. This allows people to pre-order cash collections from shops as a way to counter the falling numbers of ATM machines.

A report by Access to Cash found that 34 per cent of the UK population use cash because they like a choice when paying for things and a further 20 per cent feel more in control of their money when they use cash.

But while the UK is rapidly moving away from cash payments, Merchant Machine found that the same could not be said in other areas of Europe.

Romania was found to be the most reliant on cash, with 78 per cent of all payments still using physical money, and nearly half (42 per cent) of the country’s population remaining unbanked. Bulgaria was the next European country most cash reliant, making up around 63 per cent of transactions followed by Ukraine (60 per cent).

Norway was the country with the lowest proportion of cash payments with only 3 per cent made that way.

While Apple Pay (507m users), Google Pay (39m users) and Samsung Pay (51m users) are the most popular payment apps in the UK and Europe, Alipay is the most successful overall, with 1.2bn active users mostly located in China.

Ian Wright, founder of Merchant Machine said: “The decline of cash usage around the world represents the increase in payment technologies and the changing attitudes in both consumer and businesses. However, this study shows that not all countries are ready to make the full move towards a cashless society.

“Many people are still making paper transactions despite the decline of cash machines available. Therefore, it’s important to consider those who feel uncomfortable with digital payments platforms as we move further and further away from cash.”

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