• Nur from ELEVEN

Cashless Payment: A Form of Discrimination?

Imagine not having your credit card with you and only being in possession of a $5 note. It’s enough to buy the item which you set out to purchase at the supermarket in the first place. You make it to the checkout area only to realise how long the queue for the cashier is. You’re relieved to see that the queue for the self-checkout machines aren’t as long. You make your way there and wait. When it is finally your turn to pay, you make a horrifying discovery. The self-checkout machines are “card only/no cash accepted”. What now?

There’s no denying that change is the only constant. Everyone’s moving ahead as fast as they can so it’s no surprise that Singapore’s only just trying to keep up in this race. You see signs of such ‘advancement’ in the e-commerce market, Face ID security, apps for anything and everything, etc. The cashless society that we seem to be moving towards is one such example.

Money is a global game of trust. The only reason a dollar note has value is because everyone has decided and agrees that it does. This make-believe game involving money has evolved into an overwhelmingly abstract level. Now, it’s the norm to just walk up to a machine, provide it with personal details and walk away confidently knowing that the digital information we receive will allow us to purchase goods and services!

This change is not surprising at all. In fact, it’s quite expected. We moved from barter, to gold, to metal coins and paper notes because of convenience and ease. Well what’s easier to carry around and travels at the speed of light? Ones and zeroes, of course! In making currency more convenient and accessible, going cashless can be perceived as the next logical step in the evolution of money.

Eliminating cash and going cashless certainly has its pros:

  1. It increases efficiency and productivity. There will be no need for employees to make change and count dollar notes and coins! Every cent is accounted for. The chances for human error in counting money will be lowered.

  2. It is more hygienic! Cash can be filthy. It is reported that paper money can house more germs than a household toilet. Microorganisms said to be found on physical money included acne-causing microorganisms, vaginal bacteria, DNA of viruses and pets and even traces of drugs!

  3. Going cashless can improve security. With cashless registers, there is no incentive for cash-related crime.

Other pros include rewards in the form of cash back and promotions that benefit both corporations and shoppers. The convenience of skipping long wait and queues is enjoyed. Going cashless can also mean that it’s easier to track spending habits and with data like that, improved policies can be put in place! Singapore is just one of the many countries around the world that is moving towards becoming a cashless society.

If digital payments offer such benefits, why then are there bans on cashless practices in stores being put in place in countries like the United States? What about Singapore?

Many believe that as well-intentioned as going cashless may be, cashless stores are equated with some form of discrimination.

Statistics show that 38% of adults in Singapore were found to be underbanked, or in other words, these people may have a bank account but rely on cash or money orders for almost all of their financial transactions. 2% are unbanked, meaning they are without access to a bank account. In most instances, these people found to be ‘unbanked’ and ‘underbanked’ are disproportionately likely to be poor, immigrants, or elderly folk. Another group of people who can be affected are the youth who, as students, are not yet able to obtain credit cards. If going cashless is said to be a step towards societal advancement, how do we, as a society, move towards progress if we are systematically excluding groups of people who are already vulnerable and disadvantaged? It then makes sense that the banning of cashless stores in some places is done so on the basis that they are discriminatory. The scenario mentioned above is reality for some people.

Some believe that the way to go is not by forcing businesses into the ‘outdated’ practice of physical monetary transactions but instead focus on making digital financial transactions more attainable for underprivileged groups. Innovations such as automated checkout machines which accept both cash and cashless payments are more accessible and inclusive while maintaining our movement towards general technological and societal advancement

That being said, physical cash is still valued for a number of reasons. Some may prefer the anonymity of using cash if they are uncomfortable with governments and corporations tracking their online expenditure. Additionally, while technology can certainly ease many aspects of our lives, it is not always reliable. Hardware failures, cyberspace errors and cyber scams may occur. For instance, a VISA hardware failure limited millions of cardholders in Europe from making transactions for hours. Reportedly, e-commerce scams experienced a 783.8% jump in early 2020. Furthermore, in the event of disasters like the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, cash was the only means of payment that was possible for Peurto Ricans.

The usage of cash or cashless payment is ultimately dependent on each unique individual and their own lifestyle and behaviours. This is perhaps an unpopular opinion, but many of us in Singapore, are privileged and very fortunate. Our society certainly recognises income categories. Many of the governmental policies in Singapore depend on that! Maybe what we, as a society, don’t “see” as well is the concept of class. Class definitely exists in Singapore, whether you see or feel it. It’s quite “hidden” in Singapore and maybe that’s why many have this “out of sight, out of mind” attitude towards matters like these — it’s not obvious, so it’s not talked about and if it’s not talked about, we pretend it does not exist. Recognising privilege is important. So here’s a gentle reminder to look into yourself and those around you. With reflection and awareness, growth is somewhere in the corner. We can be cashless but let’s not be careless.

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