The sudden enthusiasm for a society without cash or physical wallet: the goal of the geek and the well-to-do, a drama for the poor


For a decade or so, a certain trend began among some sectors of the population: a mix between the presumption and the apology that paying everything with a card is the best ideathe most comfortable and the most practical, and something that should be possible anywhere, becoming the enemy businesses that did not have a dataphone or those that did, but required a minimum payment to use it.

At the same time, a boom in consumer technology began, starring the smartphone as a ubiquitous vital companion, which made it gain capabilities, starting with the possibility of paying with it. Banishing cash was no longer enough, now it was also necessary to pressure commercial banks to implement mobile payments. It was not a minor question: those who stayed behind could face a loss of customers like the one seen by operators that did not “give away” terminals in the early 2000s or that did not offer the iPhone in their catalog.

the parne

With mobile already having displaced debit cards, the wallet became even more demonized in the eyes of tech enthusiasts, or at least some of them, especially those who did not prioritize the privacy of their payments in the face of their bank and Treasury. And we begin to think about a future without having to take the wallet when leaving home. The arrival of the driving license via app, completely valid before the authorities, in 2020 was fuel for this thought.

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And so, we began to look at China as that distant future in which even the cards were already obsolete in favor of a mobile phone and some protagonist QRs… and Sweden as a closer future, as the European mirror in which to look at oneself from expensive to remove the cash.

spoilers: goes wrong.

Despite the enthusiasm of a part of society and some admiration from other countries, sprinkled with a government that was taking steps in that direction, 2021 came with steps backwards to bring cash back into Swedish civilian life and to give it the lost relevance again. There were several causes, the main ones being:

  • With a volume of cash less than 10%, it is no longer efficient to dedicate the physical infrastructure that guarantees its distribution
  • The unknown that would be a scenario in which electronic payment systems fell and there was hardly any cash as plan B
  • The role of the Swedish state as sovereign guarantor vanishes without cash, winning it over to commercial banks

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And there was more, which incidentally are warnings for sailors who happen to pursue the same dream cashless. Starting with the social exclusion what it means to digitize the economy without the existence of plans B, C and D for those who are not integrated into it.

The quick example is that of homeless people, who live on charity and for whom it is not as instinctive or simple to send a Bizum (or a Swish, in Sweden) as it is to give them a few coins. But there is more: the elderly, who have been living in a world without any problem with cash for 60, 70 or 80 years, suddenly have to get used to a totally inhospitable scenario that becomes a barrier to access.

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Migrants, people who live in areas where a good part of the economy is submerged by force and does not depend only on their good or bad will to earn a living with declared money…

And what is not the parné

Beyond money, the ambition to live with the entire portfolio inside the mobile (it is not long now: the DNI 4.0 will arrive in a few months; and the rest will depend on specific institutions), including both money and documentation, has other advantages… and other risks. To name a few:


Loss of privacy in payments

We only replace a product in case of theft

Problem in case of running out of battery

Less space required

Without being able to make payments in case of failure of electronic payment systems

Less chance of loss

As long as the mobile is complementary to the physical supports for documentation and cards of all kinds, there should not be a great conflict, each one will bear the consequences of their decisions and the universe will continue to live in harmony.

The conflict may come when more and more institutions, with or without the banks among them, begin to dispense with alternatives and focus on digital media. That scenario will only avoid conflict if it has defined alternatives for whoever, for whatever reason, stays out.

TL;DR: Our comfort doesn’t have to be everyone else’s.