Going cashless eliminates the faff of counting the float and the risky run to the bank. Not to mention, it cuts costs and gets more customers served. But as with anything in business, it's never quite that simple.
Bruce Gray probably wasn’t expecting to be labelled with accusations of ‘anti-community hipsterism’ when he announced his business would no longer accept cash.
But with online culture as it is, everything is dialled to 11. And business decisions now often carry a social weight. The accusation came on an interesting Twitter thread about going cashless. Gray is the MD of Small Bar (a two-venue drinking establishment) and Left Handed Giant, a craft brewer based in Bristol.
At midday 8 October, Small Bar moved to only accepting payments via PDQ terminals. And according to Gray, the move was inspired by conversations with staff. This was echoed by Small Bar’s operations director Jack Granger.
“The main reason for our decision to streamline our payment process is to create a better environment for our staff; making transactions at the bar quicker and easier, and reducing risks created by holding larger amounts of cash on site and transporting them to the bank,” said Granger.
This move to cashless, one of the Twitter commentariat argued, was against the communal ethos of the British pub. “Not everyone has access to chip and pin or contactless,” they wrote. “You've just made a pub unattainable.”
It’s an allegation that Small Bar is sensitive to. “Our intention is not to exclude particular people or sections of society,” said Granger. “As part of the move, we will always maintain a small float at the bar to ensure that we can still work with people who are unable to access a bank card.”
Gray added that the bar had based the decision to move to cash free on what they think is best for the business and its staff. “It is by no means a suggestion that all businesses should follow suit in order to create a cash-free society," added Gray.
The Small Bar example illustrates just how emotive the issue of going cashless is. It’s often derided as virtue signalling or blinkered bourgie hipsterism. But the benefits of card-only, especially in crowded retail environments, are genuine.
Recently, professional rugby outfit Cardiff Blues announced that its iconic home of Cardiff Arms Park will become a predominantly cashless facility to enhance customer experience and improve security.
All public bars, the car park and the Cardiff Blues shop are now entirely cashless. The club said it will support those with cash on match-days through cash exchange points where redeemable vouchers can be purchased.
But clearly, according to Cardiff Blues general manager Rhys Blumberg, any inconvenience is outweighed by the benefits. "Going cashless at the Arms Park will not only cut our associated costs as a company, which is of benefit to the product on the pitch, but will be more secure and enhance the customer experience.
"All the data shows electronic transactions are substantially quicker than cash, so it will be a much more efficient process with a reduction on queue times at the Arms Park.”
For Small Bar’s Gray, the cash-free transition also mitigates a security risk. Managers no longer need to run the gauntlet to the bank to pay in weekly takings and receive change to restock the float.
“Further to this from a more commercial perspective," said Gray, "we are charged by the bank every time we pay cash in, and charged by the bank every time we convert notes to change.” The tiresome, monotonous task of coin counting is also eliminated, sparing precious staff hours.
Not all the social media reactions to the cashless news were negative. As another Twitter user observed, “In Sweden only 2% of transactions are cash. Physical money is slowly becoming too expensive to produce against the value of the money itself.”