How much cash do I have on me?

Friday, October 06, 2017

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Company: ATM Industry Association

By Richard Buckle on

photo istock

The ever-present paradox within IT is that our pursuit of simplicity has always led to more complexity. Distributed processing and offloading from the mainframe in order to accelerate development and make it easier to deploy applications has led to unimaginable network complexities.

Client-server computing and the arrival of service-oriented architecture gave us more headaches than we had imagined, as we built new protocols and services that simply overwhelmed these complex networks.

As for accelerating the delivery of new functionality, somehow it didn't scale as it was supposed to, and as new regulations and mandates appeared, the much-hyped simplicity was never realized. And then we embraced mobility and it all went downhill from there.

Open source? What enterprise anywhere in the world is sufficiently geared up to accommodate change on a daily if not hourly basis? Whatever happened to software releases perhaps once a year?

Open source introduced us to rapid-fire fixes and patches that bred a new industry — the distributor. Which distribution of Linux do you run? Which LAMP stack are you looking to have supported by yet another third party?

No, industry standards and open source are not a path to simplicity but, rather, to unimaginable complexity. Sometimes, while giving presentations, I have caught myself oversimplifying a step-up in functionality only to realize that if questioned, I would have to admit that to embrace that step-up there is a huge learning curve.

But here is where the paradox begins to become really apparent: even as we take cash out of the system, the need for cash continues to surface.

Without dwelling too long on the terrible hardships and overall misery that we've witnessed of late with fires, hurricanes and earthquakes, when infrastructures fail it is so reassuring to have cash on hand. Try relying on plastic when there is no viable network — suddenly, wallets flush with cash produce results!

In a USA Today articleHow much cash do you carry? See how you compare, Michael Moeser, director of payments practice at the banking advisory firm Javelin Strategy said, "the growing usage of P2P payments is one reason people are carrying so little cash. Using P2P apps, people can easily split expenses with friends by transferring money into their accounts."

Even more important, he says, "is the rise of digital payments for e-commerce transactions. Rather than going to the grocery store and paying with cash, for example, people now order groceries online and pay electronically. ...

"These trends, combined with the now-widespread use of debit cards, have made carrying cash a rarity for many. Fully half of respondents to the U.S. Bank survey say they carry cash no more than 15 days per month."

But here's the paradox the ATM industry is facing: USA Today observes, "ATM use must be falling off too, right? Yes and no. A Federal Reserve study found that the number of ATM cash withdrawals did fall from 2009 to 2012 — from 6 billion to 5.8 billion. That figure remained flat as of 2015. But as the number of P2P payments providers increases, it's possible that could change."

Until something happens and we are all left looking at our wallets and realizing there isn't enough cash in it to cover a crisis of one sort or another. Life is complicated and having access to cash can simplify situations much faster than anything else.

USA Today reveals that while a majority (76 percent) of us still carry cash, the amount we carry is more likely to be less than $50. What USA Today skips over, though, is the simple math; three-quarters of Americans with $50 or less in their wallets is still a heck of a lot of currency in circulation.

Add to that our "emergency cash" (how many of us have a $50 or even a $100 note stashed away for gas in our glovebox or motorcycle saddlebag?) and it comes to roughly $10 billion. Of course, there is still a lot more stashed inside ATMs, but knowing there is still so much cash still in our pockets says a lot about how dearly we treasure having cash around.

Even films set in the future often depict a preference for payments using something tangible and negotiable. If you need something, you have to fork over coin of the realm — whatever it might be at the time.

Many of us will be curious to see the upcoming movie Bladerunner 2049 to find out what futuristic predictions are made. Remember the digital billboards of the original movie? Today, they're commonplace, but when Bladerunner was released in 1982, they were far-removed from reality.

But what of cash? Will we see our hero stop by a food truck as he did in the 1982 film, and pay cash for his hotdog?

The point is, commerce today still revolves around payments, and nothing is provided without some form of credit changing hands. The paradox is that the more we shift to digital forms of payments — from debit and credit cards to P2P digital payments, the more we continue feel at ease with cash.

Cash helps us control our budgets and simplify our transactions. If we have the cash, we make the purchase. And in our highly complex lives, it is this simplicity that resonates with us all. 

King Cash can continue to rest easy — he is still our favorite and there are many years to go before he becomes ill at ease with the crown he wears!


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