The increasing popularity of cashless payment recently sparked fresh speculation about the decline and eventual demise of physical cash. Last Saturday’s Daily Telegraph (141017) used the troubled roll-out of the new £1 coin to explore the likelihood and implications of a completely cashless society. Consumers, it was reported, are turning their backs on cash. More transactions are being made by card and contactless payment options are becoming more ubiquitous. The watch on your wrist, the phone in your hand and the card in your wallet can be used to pay for your morning coffee, meal or weekly shop – a scenario that might have been considered fanciful in the extreme two decades ago. 

The tenor of the Telegraph’s readable and informative article was upbeat. The baker, the butcher and the candlestick maker, we are told, would be only too happy to take advantage of lower card fees and leave behind the everyday headaches that come with needing to provide change and secure cash. Banks, too, relish a world in which cash usage disappears. 

For charities, the rise of cashless payment poses both worrying challenges and exciting opportunities. Today’s Times (191017) carries comment from the Charities Aid Foundation, who rightly point out that there is ‘a massive future for donations’ using contactless cards. However, the reality is that, nearly a decade after the introduction of contactless technology, much of the charity sector has struggled to keep up with the pace of change. Fewer people are carrying coins in their wallets means fewer people throwing change into collection boxes.  The pennies and pounds add up. Indeed, according to data reported in today’s Times, charities are losing tens of millions of pounds a year as people switch to contactless payments and carry less loose change. 

There are no easy solutions. There are many obstacles in a move to a cashless world, from the difficulty of choosing between the increasing number of cashless platforms, each with their own advantages to the costs of investing in a technology whose full value would only be realised over a period of time (something that is particularly true of smaller charities). There is also the danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. For many charities, physical cash and coin donations remain a big and vitally important income stream. The challenge is to protect this, and to continue to cater to the preferences of their donors for whom cash is still the preferred and easiest way to give, while having the strategy and willingness to face the future and explore the solutions that will allow them to prosper in sunlit, cashless uplands to come.