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The capital’s bus and tram networks are already cashless, and last year, a survey found that nearly three quarters of Londoners think the city will be completely cash-free by 2036. But what might a cashless London look like, and how could it affect different kinds of people? Here are five ways going cashless could change London life.
More homeless people could open bank accounts
Housing charity Shelter estimates that as many as 170,000 people in London have no home, and without a proof address, they can’t open a bank account. So, in a cashless society, how would a Big Issue vendor be able to receive payment for the magazines they sell? Last autumn, a branch of Lloyds Bank in Manchester became one of the first in the UK to open accounts for homeless people; in a cashless city, many more bank would need to follow their lead. Transport for London has already introduced contactless card readers for buskers, but in a cashless city, these readers could also be offered to beggars.
London could have its own local currency
With pound notes and coins no longer changing hands, the capital could decide to introduce its own local cashless currency. The Greek city of Volos is already pioneering this idea with the TEM, whose full name translates as “alternative money unity”. The benefits of creating a similar currency for London are obvious: it would encourage spending within the capital, and the Mayor could set limits, as Volos does, on how many units any one person is allowed to save up and owe.
The tax system would be fairer
HMRC estimates that the so-called “hidden economy” costs the country around £1.8 billion a year; this figure would definitely fall in a cashless society as sneaky “cash in hand” payments would no longer be possible. Large-scale money laundering would also become trickier as every unit of currency would have an electronic paper trail. But on the flipside, we’d lose the opportunity to hand over cash in situations where this might feel preferable. For example, many of us are suspicious of where restaurant service charges actually go, but in a cashless society, we wouldn’t be able hand a tip direct to the person who served us.
ATMs would disappear
If you’re convinced it’s getting harder to find a cash machine, you’re not imagining things: Which? estimates that 300 ATMs in the UK disappear each month. In a cashless society, they’d become as anachronistic as telephone boxes, and could be replaced with secure public points for checking your bank balance.
We could make payments using just our voices
Yes, really. PayPal's Anjul Nayar predicts that voice recognition payments could be rolled out as more people lean into virtual and augmented reality, and drones and self-driving cars become more prevalent. "It won’t be convenient or realistic to pull out a credit card or punch in your information in any of these scenarios, whether a device is strapped to your face, your drone is metres away making a pickup, or if your self-driving car is approaching a drive-thru," he wrote in 2017.
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