New study predicts end of notes and coins by 2026 in UK

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Merchant Machine has taken an in-depth look at payment methods of different countries around the world to find the nations where physical cash still takes precedence despite the increasing popularity of digital payment wallets such as Apple Pay and Paypal. The study also looks into the UK’s changing habits with cash and predicts when the United Kingdom can expect to be a completely cashless society.

The top 10 countries most reliant on cash

With over 70% of payments made in cash, Romania has been revealed as the country most reliant on physical cash. Nearly half (42%) of the Eastern European country population is unbanked showing that many of the citizens still cling to notes and coins. 

In Norway, on the other hand, only 3% of transactions are made in cash. Whilst there are only 31.6 ATMs per 1000 adults, the research found that 100% of the population own a bank account. 

RankCountryCash Transaction (%)Population Unbanked (%)No. of ATMs per 100,000 adults
1Romania78%42%64.44
2Egypt55%67%20.07
3Kazakhstan60%41%85.94
4Bulgaria63%28%94.33
5Ukraine60%37%96.3
6Morocco41%71%28.58
7Philippines37%66%28.98
8Peru22%57%126.71
9Hungary45%25%60.95
10Vietnam26%69%25.9

The world’s most popular digital wallets

Digital Wallets also referred to as e-wallets allow users to make cashless payments via a wearable device such as a smartwatch or their mobile phone. 

Over the years digital wallets have increasingly seen a rise in popularity and the Covid-19 pandemic has only helped accelerate this.  In 2013, Alipay overtook PayPal as the world’s largest mobile payment platform and they have not slowed down since as the digital wallet now has over 1 billion active users. Here are the top 5:

  1. Alipay – 1.2 Billion + active users 
  2. WeChat – 1.151 Billion 
  3. Apple Pay – 507 Million
  4. PayPal – 361 Million
  5. Samsung Pay – 51 Million

According to the findings of 2019 survey by Deutsche Bank Research, in the UK contactless payments, was favoured over other methods of payments for weekly in-store purchases.

Young millennials were found to be the primary users of mobile payments apps in 2019 with 41% of them stating that they had switched to apps for payments (22% higher than the previous year).  Senior millennials were another group of avid payments app users with 38% of them choosing to switch to a mobile app for payments, this was followed by Gen Xers (14%) and then Baby boomers (5%).

The UK’s ATM usage

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

The past 10 years have seen the number of cash withdrawals in the UK drop by 22%. In fact, with only two million withdrawals, 2019 saw a 9% decrease in the volume of ATM usage made by UK cardholders from the previous year.

Between 2019 and 2020, the country saw 8% closure of free-to-use cashpoints leaving approximately 24% of bank machines charging Brits to withdraw their own money.

Despite this, 96% of cash withdrawals at UK ATMs made by cardholders still remain free of charge. 

YearFree-to-use ATM’s (Thousands)Pay-to-use ATM’s (Thousands)Percentage Decrease
201653,92316,097-0.80%
201754,59914,011-2.01%
201852,04011,120-7.94%
201945,35515,307-3.96%
202041,72712,847-10.04%

The future of cash in the UK

Cash usage in the UK has seen a sharp decline over the last few years. This alongside the current coronavirus pandemic has meant that many businesses have asked customers to pay by alternative means such as cards and e-wallets.

By using a forecast linear on cash usage data from 2000-2019, which saw a drop from 50% in 2004 to 14.96% in 2019, we can predict that cash usage in the UK will reach 0% by as soon as 2026. That is just five-years time. 

However, this trend towards a cashless society is not something desired by all. The same report by Access to Cash found that 47% of the UK said that they would find it problematic if there was no cash. A further 17% stated that they were unsure of how they cope or if they would be able to cope at all.

Ian Wright, founder of Merchant Machine, comments: “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.”