Will we soon live in a world without cash? More and more payments are being made electronically: whether by credit card or debit card, or by direct debit or bank transfer, or by cash loaded cards. For many people cash is now largely used only for small transactions.
But even here, things are changing. Direct transfers via mobile phone apps are increasingly being used for small transactions. Mobile phone companies, banks and others are busy developing such apps and more and more are being released onto the market.
And it’s not just in developed countries. Many developing countries are finding that mobile phones are an ideal way of transferring money for a whole range of transactions. For example, in Kenya, under 20% have a formal bank account, only 1% have a landline and yet more than 70% have a mobile phone, and this percentage is still rising. In 2007, a system known as M-Pesa (see also) was launched:
The user can create a free account and deposit money into it for free with registered agents at retail outlets. They may be gas stations, supermarkets, banks or micro-finance providers or small and medium-sized businesses. No minimum account balance is required.
The user can then transfer up to $440 from the account to someone else — including someone who doesn’t have a cellphone. The recipient provides identification and picks up the cash from another registered agent.
Users can deposit and withdraw cash, pay water and electricity bills, pay their children’s school fees, get paid by their employers or buy extra airtime for their phone.
Other developing countries are introducing similar systems. The second webcast link below gives an example from South Africa.
So how long will it be before cash disappears as a medium of exchange? Or will people continue to prefer to carry cash around with them – especially given the convenience of having cash machines readily available which do not charge for use.
Life in a cashless society BBC News Magazine, David Wolman (14/6/12)
FNB Introduces Cashless Payment App ABNDigital on YouTube (14/5/12) (see also FNB launches new geo-payment system IT News, Africa
PayPal leads mobile payments push Reuters (4/6/12)
Are We Moving Towards a Cashless Society? TheAlyonaShow on YouTube (14/3/12)
More than 70 per cent of Canadians ready to go “cashless” CNW (13/6/12)
Is a cashless society on the way? Westfair Online, Janice Kirkel (18/5/12)
Mobile money misery BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (16/5/12)
Cellphones transform Kenyan commerce CBC News (27/10/10)
For a PowerPoint of the above chart, click here.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of using cash?
- To what extent can mobile phone technology replace cash? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such technology?
- To what extent can mobile phone technology fulfil the various functions of money?
- Private-sector holdings of cash have been rising as a proportion of (nominal) GDP – see above chart. Is this consistent with a decreased use of cash? Explain.
- Why may mobile phone transactions be particularly useful in developing countries?
- What proportion of your own expenditure is conducted by cash? Has this changed over the past couple of years? If so, explain why.
As a resident of Bristol it is with considerable interest that I’m following the development of the Bristol pound, due for launch in September 2012. One Bristol pound will be worth one pound sterling.
The new currency will be issued in demoninations of £1, £5, £10 and £20 and there is a local competition to design the notes. Participating local traders will open accounts with Bristol Credit Union, which will administer the scheme. It has FSA backing and so all deposits will be guaranteed up to £85,000.
The idea of a local currency is not new. There are already local currencies in Stroud in Gloucestershire, Totnes in Devon, Lewes in East Sussex and Brixton in south London. The Bristol scheme, however, is the first to be introduced on a city-wide scale. The administrators are keen that use of the currency should be as easy as possible; people will be able to open accounts with Bristol Credit Union, pay bills online or by mobile phone.
As the money has to be spent locally, the aim is to help local business, of which more han 100 have already signed up to the scheme. Bristol has a large number of independent traders – in fact, the road where I live is off the Gloucester Road, which has the largest number of independent traders on one street in the UK. The organisers of the Bristol pound are determined to preserve the diversity of shops and prevent Bristol from becoming a ‘clone town’, with high streets full of chain stores.
But how likely is the scheme to encourage people to shop in independent shops and deal with local traders? Will the scheme take off, or will it fizzle out? What are its downsides? The following articles consider these issues.
The Bristol Pound set to become a flagship for local enterprise The Random Fact, Thomas Foss (7/2/12)
What is the point of local currency? The Telegraph, Rosie Murray-West (7/2/12)
The Bristol pound: will it save the (local) economy? Management Today, Emma Haslett (6/2/12)
‘Bristol Pound’ currency to boost independent traders BBC News Bristol, Dave Harvey (6/2/12)
We don’t want to be part of ‘clone town Britain’: City launches its own currency to keep money local Mail Online, Tom Kelly (6/2/12)
British Town Prepares To Launch Its Own Currency — Here’s How That’s Going To End Business Insider, Macro Man (7/2/12)
They don’t just shop local in Totnes – they have their very own currency Independent, Rob Sharp (1/5/08)
Videos and webcasts
The town printing its own currency [Stroud] BBC News, Tim Muffett (22/3/10)
Brixton launches its own currency BBC News (17/9/09)
Local currency BBC Politics Show (30/3/09)
Local currency for Lewes BBC News, Rob Pittam (13/5/08)
The Totnes Pound transitionculture.org on YouTube, Clive Ardagh (21/1/09)
Local Currencies – Replacing Scarcity with Trust Peak Moment on YouTube, Francis Ayley (8/2/07)
- What are the advantages of having a local currency?
- What are the dangers in operating a local currency?
- What steps can be taken to avoid the dangers?
- Can Bristol pounds be ‘created’ by Bristol Credit Union? Could the process be inflationary?
- What market failures are there in the pattern of shops in towns and cities? To what extent is the growth of supermarkets in towns and the growth of out-of-town shopping malls a result of market failures or simply of consumer preferences?
- Are local currencies only for idealists?
While deflation was quite common right up to World War II, it has not been seen in the UK since 1947. The podcast considers whether it might return and looks at the impact of deflation on economic activity. There is a short case study on the deflationary years suffered by Japan between 1997 and 2006 and a consideration of policies that might be appropriate to overcome defaltionary pressures.
The origins of all economic activity lie in barter. Barter is the exchange of goods directly without the use of money as a medium of exchange. A barter economy is one that uses just barter to organise economic activity. Many subsistence economies will use barter as the main method of trading. We might be forgiven for thinking that, given the sophistication of a modern economy, barter is a long-dead medium of exchange. As the article below shows, we would be wrong. In fact, ironically, the very sophistication that has brought us this economic growth and technical development may also be bringing barter back into fashion. There is a wide range of web sites dedicated to swapping goods and services. Seedy People may not be a website you would immediately think of visiting, but in fact, it is an exchange for gardeners and allotmenteers to swap seeds. The author of the article (John-Paul Flintoff) may have failed to pay his council tax through bartering, but in these cash-strapped times, there may be lots of other opportunities to bypass the conventional market economy.
Money is dead – long live barter Times Online (11/1/09)
- Identify two weaknesses of organising economic ativity through barter.
- Explain why barter may be coming back into fashion.
- Identify the various functions of money.
- Discuss the implications for economic efficiency of more economic activity being organised through barter.
A key cause of the financial crisis is arguably Maths. Many of the innovations in the finance industry were driven by Maths and a desire to generate higher returns from the money available. The BBC programme, More or Less, looks at the Maths of the credit crunch and considers the extent to which the misuse of mathematical principles may have contributed to the crisis. The links below look at the issues raised by the programme and also give access to the archived audio from the programme.
The Maths of the credit crunch BBC News Online (9/1/09)
More or less – programe summary (9th January programme) BBC News Online (9/1/09)
More or less – programe summary (2nd January programme) BBC News Online (2/1/09)
More less – programme (audio) BBC News Online (9/1/09)
- Analyse the extent to which quantitative analysis may have been responsible for the credit crunch.
- Consider whether the system of paying performance bonuses to bank traders created a distortion of incentives.
- Explain what is meant by a derivative. Discuss the role that derivatives played in the financial crisis.