[Dave Birch] I read in my Daily Telegraph that there has been a postal strike in the U.K. I can’t say that I noticed, because I never send letters anymore and never receive any except for junk mail and the occasional utility bill (which, since I pay all utility bills by direct debit, I rarely look at anyway). I’m from the same mould as the terrific U.S. stand-up Jim Gaffigan: if I did actually see a hand-addressed envelope drop onto the doormat I’d assume that someone had been kidnapped. But I digress. I further read in the very same newspaper that in an attempt to waste an impressive amount of public money, the Department for Work & Pensions (the DWP) sent out 400,000 pension cheques last week by courier because of the strike. I was really shocked: I had no idea that they sent out cheques at all, let alone sent them out by courier when they would otherwise be delayed. Surely it should be a condition of receiving pension cheques that you get yourself a bank account and end the anachronistic printing, posting, depositing and clearing of bits of paper. If I sound more intemperate than usual about allowing this quaint Georgian payment mechanism to persist, it’s because I’m writing this in Iceland.

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Ah, Iceland. For a digital money nerd like me this is the best place in the world. Not because of the glaciers, volcanos, whales, history — the story of Jorgen Jorgenson, the “English Dane“, who became King of Iceland (for a few days) is definitely one that couldn’t be made up — heritage, sagas and sub-zero vodka bars (even the chairs were made out of ice). No, I love it here because Iceland is the most cashless country on Earth. I didn’t take any cash at all with me — in fact, I’d forgotten all about cash until I started typing this article — and nenver needed any. Cards work everywhere, from taxis to bars. A miniscule seven percent of retail POS transactions are cash (it’s more than seventy percent back home) and there is every possibility that contactless cards and contactless phones will soon mop up that last fraction.

If people don’t pay by card they pay by e-bill. There’s only one processor and all the banks are onboard. If a retailer — or another person — pushes an e-bill at you, then you will see it whichever of your online banking accounts you use. When you log in, there are your bills waiting for payment. Once you’ve OK’d the bill, they get their money. Simple, cheap. I’ve always been enthusiastic about pushed e-billing because it means that the retailers don’t have to deal with the payment details.

It seems to me that there is every possibility that Iceland might become the first cashless society. I mean wholly cashless, with no notes or coins at all. At this point, retailers could get rid of their tills and banks could shut down their ATMs.

It’s really interesting speculate on what might then happen. I would love to plan a survey — perhaps with an anthropologist and a sociologist — for the time when the last Icelandic banknote is folded away, because none of us really know how a cashless society will differ from current society. It’s certainly fun to speculate though.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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