[Dave Birch] I’m thinking hard about cash at the moment because of my debate at the Financial Services Club tonight on the future of cash with Adam Lawrence, Chief Executive of the Royal Mint and John Howells, CEO of the LINK Network in favour. Since they both make a living out of cash, and I make at least part of my living out of digital money, it’s going to be fun. I’m especially looking forward to asking Adam why the Mint bothers to make 1p and 2p coins that no-one wants (and why they are replacing 5p and 10p coins with new ones that mean all vending machines have to be updated) and asking John why ATMs don’t have contactless interfaces to defeat skimming. And I’ve got plenty more aces up my sleeve with regard to the cost of cash to the European economy (tens of billions of euros) and it’s role in tax evasion, corruption and drug dealing.

I think I’ve got the ammunition I need to keep them pinned down — cash is, after all, expensive, anti-poor, pro-crime and a total deadweight on society — but I need to make sure that my defences are in place too. While trying to anticipate the pro-cash arguments that might be fired across my bows, I began to consider the specific cash of casual donation.

A common category of issue is “street commerce”. In particular, the question of cash donations to buskers and beggars.

[From Beggars can be choosers]

If there’s no cash, the argument goes, then how will people be able to give money to beggars and buskers? I simply don’t think this is the problem it appears to be.

Cashlessness won’t necessarily leave the homeless out in the cold. People could still give them actual goods, or vouchers for free meals (an idea that was briefly popular in the early 1990s). Donovan notes that many homeless people already treat some donated items as if they’re currency, accumulating and trading them for things they need more.

[From Cashless society: What happens to charity when no one carries loose change? – Slate Magazine]

Personally, I never give anything to charities or homeless people in the street — we have our “family” charities and we support them via direct debit — but I do sometimes give money to buskers as I do think they add to the gaiety of the nation. The solution, at least in the case of London, is obvious: put a “yellow button” next to each busker’s pitch so that that people passing by can give a quid with a 280 millisecond tap of their Oyster card or, starting very shortly, their contactless bank card or NFC mobile phone. I’m sure people would soon get used to seeing “fixed price” yellow buttons here and there: Visa/MC could be persuaded to change their rules to avoid the need for keyboard, PINpad and card slot and the acquirers could be persuaded to waive the MSC for these purposes. Why? Because it makes society a better place (and, frankly, they need to get people used to tapping cards, watches, hats, badges and phones, because they’re not tapping them on anything at the moment) and makes London specifically a better place in time for the Olympics.

If someone tried to cheat the system by setting up yellow buttons that charge £10 instead of £1, they might get away with it, but not for long. When my phone tells me it’s just donated £10 instead of the £1 I was expected, I will just complain to my bank and get the money back. The busker hasn’t got the £10 as cash, merely as a credit to a merchant account, so they’ll get it back from him. And then have him arrested for fraud.

These are personal opinions and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinions of
Consult Hyperion or any of its clients or suppliers

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