LINK on the endurance of cash in a COVID-19 economySeptember 1, 2020 | By Graham Mott
In July, we invited Graham Mott, Director of Strategy at LINK to share his thoughts and insights on UK people's use of cash and ATMs during the coronavirus pandemic. Three months on, he revisits the topic with new evidence of the continuing importance of cash.
Graham Mott, LINK: As the coronavirus crisis enters its seventh full month, it's apparent that what most people had hoped would be a short-term temporary problem is proving to be much longer in duration and broader in its impact. Huge changes have been seen in people’s working lives, social activities, travel, cultural outlook, shopping and payment habits across the whole world, and as of September 2020 the end isn't yet in sight.
With the benefit of hindsight, almost none of these changes have come out of the blue — they were already being seen. But what we have now is the future arriving in fast-forward and this can create tensions as people sometimes struggle to adapt to the new and somewhat strange world we are all finding ourselves in. This is not to say all the changes have been and will be negative, the growth in home working, rising interest in localism, increased concern for the environment and for many, an increased sense of community, are all positives which we are likely to see carried forward into the future.
However, it is perhaps now becoming clearer that we cannot consider the changes we have seen as abnormal or temporary but rather as a new state of affairs. We have to begin to consider how we permanently adapt how we live and work and, as part of that, what the role and objectives of the businesses we work for should be.
LINK’s own consumer research, taken since the start of March, shows that people are adapting to the new situation, but this is a slow and gradual process. Over 71 percent of people are still altering their shopping habits because of the crisis, albeit down from 90 percent at the start of the UK lockdown: 41 percent are still shopping more online; 14 percent are still stocking up on staple foods, and 11 percent are still buying extra ‘essential items’ like toilet paper.
In terms of cash use, 71 percent are using less cash overall — only a small fall from 78 percent at the peak of the pandemic in the UK. In addition, 17 percent are still taking hygiene precautions when using cash and, while this has fallen from 20 percent a few weeks ago, it is still a significant number. Forty percent are still avoiding cash in favour of contactless card or smartphone payments.
What LINK’s research also shows is that the ability to spend cash, rather than obtain it, is now a problem: 28 percent of survey participants reported that since the beginning of the crisis, they had wanted to pay in cash but had had to use a card instead. Fourteen percent said they had wanted to buy something with cash but were unable to do so and so walked away.
But cash use is rebounding: since the middle of April there has been a steady recovery as people adapted to the new environment and started once again to visit shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants.
Sixty-eight percent of people said they had used cash in the past two weeks with convenience stores, supermarkets and simply paying other people being the most common uses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, older people and those in lower-income households are more likely to be using cash, particularly in supermarkets as it helps people budget, is easy to manage and they are more likely to have been paid in cash. LINK is also seeing quite a lot of young people using cash, possibly those who have moved back in with their parents because of the pandemic and are being given cash to pay for shared expenses such as buying food or petrol for the car.
Overall, LINK’s ATM use is now reasonably stable, down around 35 percent on 2019 in terms of volume of transactions and around 25 percent in terms of value. The average withdrawal value continues to be significantly higher than it was last year.
As we look forward, we need to consider this to be the situation we are likely to see for the foreseeable future; cash usage significantly down on 2019 but for many consumers, cash is still a critical part of their lives. It is therefore vital that the cash delivery and acceptance systems, such as the ATM network, remain viable and able to meet this need.
This is a vital task that LINK, its Members and its business partners are focused on now and in the future.