Apple Pay's tenuous role in a cashless society
Tim Cook is a smart man.
Once you move past his enthusiastic propaganda at Apple events, it's clear Cook has a great mind. But he’s not always right about everything and I believe his latest comments about a cashless society are worth examining.
Apple Pay changed some things as they relate to mobile payments in the U.S. While systems such as Google Wallet and Isis/Softcard debuted well before Apple Pay in 2014, Apple's vision for mobile payments still hasn't captured the imagination of consumers despite Cook telling us how “great” it is at every company event.
Of course, that hasn't stopped Apple from expanding Apple Pay to more countries. It will debut later this month in Japan, which is considered one of the most mature mobile-payments markets on the planet. And it was there where Cook recently made a prediction about a global cashless society.
"We would like to be a catalyst for taking cash out of the system," Cook said, according to the Nikkei Asian Review. "We don't think the consumer particularly likes cash."
Keep in mind that Cook's comments came in a tech savvy nation where citizens have used mobile phones to make payments for a couple of decades. Even so, Japan remains a paper money-based society. Many merchants there refuse to accept plastic payment cards, let alone some kind of mobile wallet.
I understand why Cook said what he said. He's trying to get as many people as possible to use Apple Pay, which means his company needs to sell a lot of iPhones to make that happen. But the problem with Cook's statement is that it doesn't match with reality at the moment. Consumers still like cash.
Yes, cash use is declining.
Accenture published a study this week that found 60 percent of consumers in the U.S. and Canada use cash at least weekly to make purchases at a merchant location, down seven percentage points from 2015. Accenture noted how that was the most significant decline in use of traditional payment methods over the past 12 months.
But another recent study shows us that consumers' cash habits are hard to break.
Cardtronics' 2016 U.S. Health of Cash Study revealed we're are using a blend of payment methods such as cash, plastic and mobile.
Among some of the key findings:
- Cash continues to dominate (79 percent) P2P payments in general, and in specific scenarios such as dining out with family friends, in which case 55 percent of consumers (47 percent of millennials) still prefer to “split the bill” with cash despite the beginnings of a meaningful presence for non-bank and bank P2P payment apps (10 percent).
- When traveling, people make sure to have cash on hand: such as going on vacation (85 percent), a road trip (85 percent), or away for the weekend (83 percent).
- Consumers are most likely to use cash at fast-food restaurants (58 percent), convenience stores (61 percent), farmer’s market (79 percent), bars (57 percent) and salons (56 percent).
- 73 percent of people use cash to control their spending; and 66 percent of people use cash to stay on budget.
Cook’s comment brought me back to our Bank Customer Experience Summit last month in Chicago where executives discussed the pros and cons of a cashless society during a debate format.
By the end of the debate, it became clear that the participants did not believe cash was going away any time soon, especially as it relates to giving consumers a choice of payments options.
Also, we need to remember consumers continue to be wary about security and digital payments. Executives like to say that security is overblown in this situation
A recent survey from Thales revealed that 88 percent of respondents said they would discontinue using digital payments if they personally fell victim to cybercriminal activities due to a data breach.
That's a precarious situation for digital payment providers because they won't get a second chance if something goes wrong.
When you combine all of this against Cook's comment, it's hard to sit here and nod my head in agreement even my personal cash use is almost nonexistent. But I still like the idea of cash as a safety valve in the worst-case scenario.
So, Mr. Cook, let's slow down a little bit with the cashless society talk because there's a long way to go.
Will Hernandez / Will Hernandez has 14 years of experience ranging from newspapers to wire services and trade publications. Before becoming Editor of MobilePaymentsToday.com, he spent two years as the content manager for PaymentsJournal.com, a leading payments industry news aggregator and information hub published by Mercator Advisory Group. Will spent four years covering the payments industry as an associate editor for multiple publications in SourceMedia's Payments Group based in Chicago.