cash money wallet payment pay

In my neighbourhood shopping parade, you can see a palpable upswing in cash use. The two remaining businesses that used to be card-only now gladly accept physical money. Another shop displays the increasingly widely distributed yellow and black handbill that reads: ‘Cash is freedom. Use it or lose it.’

City-wide, handwritten signs with slogans like ‘Cash is king’ and ‘Cash welcome’ have popped up. You can even spot them in hipster coffee shops where only a year ago, if you reached for your purse or wallet, you would be greeted like some fossilised throwback from a bygone era.

Latest statistics show 19% of purchases in 2022 were made with notes and coins. Cash use grew for the first time in a decade. We aren’t yet back to the 2015 situation, when cash accounted for more than half of transactions, but I’ll bet this upwards trend continues.

Last month, IT outages left Tesco, Sainsbury’s, McDonald’s and Greggs unable to process contactless payments. Stores closed. Orders were not delivered. It was a timely illustration of the inherent unreliability of virtual money.

The cautionary tale of the Post Office’s ruinously defective Horizon system has not increased public trust in state or corporate-run IT. Nor has the recent smart meter fiasco. These remote meter readers have generated absurd bills for some users, and now we learn they can be programmed centrally to charge customers more at certain times of the day.

Errors and intrusive overreach like this only confirm the suspicion that a digitally replicated version of something real is as likely to cause us a problem as solve it.

What more proof is needed that the systems responsible for crucial public services do make catastrophic mistakes? Incompetence aside, digital systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks and power cuts.

Rishi Sunak came into office evangelising a central bank digital currency (CBDC). This state-backed digital innovation would be a “complement” to cash and ensure our money was “safe and secure”, or so he told us. Well, Sunak is on his way out of office now and he can take his unwanted CBDC with him.

There’s a reason why museums have coins from ancient civilisations. Real money endures. You can touch it. When digital money systems go wrong, they just leave a big virtual mess.