Is Making Your Business Cashless Ageist?

For most people, the idea of a cashless society probably isn’t a particularly frightening one – digital banking and contactless payments have largely become the norm. For certain sections of society, the demise of cold hard cash could have a hugely damaging effect on their daily lives.

Even though research shows that 83% of payments are contactless, according to the RSA’s Cash Census, 10 million people in the UK would struggle to cope in a cashless society.

Among these are the elderly who are cash dependent, and who make up around 18% of the population.

A large catalyst in Britain’s journey towards a cashless society is the rise of affordable, easy to use, and reliable Electronic Point of Sale systems. An EPOS system can be used to process payments, track inventory, and integrate with software, such as a CRM system. It’s evident that EPOS systems make it quick and easy to go cashless because you can purchase a handheld card reader and start taking payments

Even so, there are pros and cons to going cashless with a business, and business owners need to think hard before making this choice.

Isolating communities that rely on cash has the power to negatively affect a business’ reputation and its revenue.

In this article, we’ll explore the impact of a cashless society on the elderly, as well as other potentially marginalised groups, and how to prevent isolating those who rely on cash.

Ageism in the Digital Divide: Are Seniors Marginalised in Cashless Societies?

Age UK’s report on how the decline of cash is affecting the elderly highlights a number of problems. It includes the difficulties the elderly face with banking changes, the closure of bank branches and Post Offices, and the inability to pay bills and other basic expenses with cash.

If all businesses go cashless, a significant portion of Britain’s  elderly population could end up being marginalised from society as a whole.

It’s estimated that around five million elderly people would struggle without access to cash. Of these five million, those with lower incomes will be hit the hardest. Using physical cash tends to make budgeting and finances much easier, and some of them may even take on temporary or informal jobs in the hopes of being paid in cash.

The FCA’s Financial Lives 2017 survey found that over a third of adults aged 65 and over have an annual household income of £15,000. The elderly in our society are already struggling with low pensions and new technology and, now with businesses moving to cashless payments, they’re at risk of being ostracised from their lives as they know it.

We spoke to Dennis Reed from Silver Voices on the impact of a cashless society on the elderly. Silver Voices champions the rights of the elderly in the UK.

On the likelihood of the UK becoming cashless in the near future, he says: “The government says they’re going to protect cash, but they haven’t really done very much to stop the current trends. So, I wouldn’t say it’s imminent, but we are talking about in the next decade. Unless something is done, we will be going almost completely cashless. So yes, action needs to be taken.”

He also says that the older population are affected the most because they grew up without digital technology.

“A lot of older people find digital banking confusing and complex. Sometimes they are physically unable to manipulate the small screens required to download [the] apps to make the necessary payments. So the actual way of making the payments is discriminatory,” he says.

When it comes to the support the elderly receive to help with the digital transition, Dennis says this only exists in the form of charities and that it only manages to scratch the surface. Silver Voice members are only able to cope with new technology with the help of family, friends, or neighbours. He says that it leaves those who live alone, or don’t have anyone to help out feeling, isolated and powerless.

In addition to making payments, Dennis says that Silver Voice members are concerned about their access to services. For example, parking apps are becoming the norm, but it can isolate older people who may struggle to use them. Dennis says these new trends are making it more difficult for the elderly to join in with society.

Stranded In a Cashless Wilderness: Does Geographical Location Isolate the Elderly?

Of the 10 million people who would struggle without cash, 27% live in rural communities. In these areas where internet connectivity can be poor, cashless payments may not always be an option. In a fully cashless society, these communities would become deeply isolated.

Those who’ve lived in these communities for a number of years will be used to a certain way of living and replacing cash with digital banking will be a difficult adjustment. Age UK’s report highlights a number of the elderly who struggle to use online banking and who rely on others to withdraw cash for them.

While digital banking is convenient and easy for those comfortable with technology, it’s important to remember those who might struggle to use a smartphone.

Excluded from Cashless Payments: The Struggle of Disabilities in Digital Societies

It’s just not the elderly who face exclusion from society because those who live with disabilities are also at risk of being isolated. Many people with learning disabilities do not have access to a credit or debit card, or are not in control of their own money, therefore rely on cash to make payments.

This issue was put under the spotlight recently by charity Mencap Cymru, which works to support those living with disabilities. In March it launched a petition calling on the Welsh government to investigate whether businesses that only accept cards are being discriminatory.

Before the pandemic, 33% of adults with physical disabilities experienced  difficulties accessing a bank branch. With fewer bank branches now than before the pandemic, this same group of people is further isolated from accessing their cash or making cash deposits. Of course, with digital banking, those with physical disabilities might have more convenient access to their bank accounts.

However, this isn’t the same across the board and those with mental disabilities may struggle with the continued digital changes. The way we bank is rapidly evolving and more banks are transforming the way they operate, which can risk isolating those who cannot use technology.

Is Going Cashless Worth It For Your Business?

Now that you’re aware of the negative effects of going cashless, is it worth it for your business? Well, that depends on your individual business. Is your business targeting the older demographic? What are the general payment method habits of your current customers?

Knowing this can help determine how your business moves forward and the approach you take.

You should also consider the reputation of your business, which can be negatively impacted by isolating communities from accessing your goods or services. The best way to avoid this, and to ensure that the elderly and those with disabilities continue to have access to their local community, is by ensuring that your business accepts cash. We recommend using an EPOS system that accepts a range of payment methods – including cash.

Campaigns like Silver Voices are fighting for the rights of older people and, if the group’s voice is heard, we may see the government take action to protect the people who rely on cash. However, this doesn’t seem like an imminent decision, so it’s currently up to individual businesses to hear what these communities have to say.

As a business, you can cater to your community’s needs despite the increasing trend of cashless payments. It may just not be the time for your business to go completely cashless.

Want more insights? Read our coverage of London’s PayExpo.

Written by:
Zara Chechi
Zara is a Payments Expert, specialising in writing about Point of Sale systems. With a Law Degree from City University of London, she has used her legally-honed research and analytical skills to develop expertise in the Business Services world. Featured in FinTech Magazine, she quickly became an expert in payroll, POS systems, and merchant accounts.