By Molly Shea

The cash versus cashless debate has been well-argued for years now, with many people putting their eggs in one basket or the other: either making the case for a completely cashless society or arguing why physical currency is still valuable.

While you probably carry less cash than you used to, you might be surprised to learn that cash continues to be widely used in Canada, with 6.5 billion cash transactions made by consumers in 2018 according to Payments Canada: the highest of any payment type. On the other end of the spectrum, Canada is the global leader at becoming a cashless society, with an average of over two credit cards per resident, according to

Ready to go cashless?
There is a strong convenience and business argument for going cashless. However, when you look past Canada’s borders, you quickly realize that any conversations about a “cashless future” are out of touch with the realities of our global economy.

Data from the World Bank shows that small retailers transact $19 trillion in cash a year: nearly one-fourth of the global gross domestic product (GDP). And that’s not just in poor neighborhoods or low-income countries. In Europe, according to the global security company G4S, an estimated 79 per cent of all point of sale transactions were conducted in cash: which was actually up from 60 per cent in 2016.

Moreover, there are currently around 1.7 billion adults globally without access to a bank account, according also to the World Bank. This is especially true in developing countries.

An argument for financial inclusion
In Canada, where the number of unbanked pales in comparison at a mere one million, estimates still show that another five million are underbanked, reports ACORN Canada. These are people with a bank account but no credit: people who are unable to afford fees or high interest rates linked to products for low-income borrowers, or those who live in communities or neighbourhoods that do not have bank branches.

Canada also has an aging population with seniors who may not have access to intricate mobile phones or feel comfortable with apps and contactless terminals. Not to mention the large rural population of Canadians without access to reliable broadband.

As a country that prides itself on inclusiveness, is Canada really ready for a cashless society that effectively leaves millions of economically vulnerable people behind?

Uniting digital, physical worlds
It’s no secret that globalization is breaking down barriers that previously impeded the movement of people and money. As families become spread across the globe, it’s crucial for companies to provide innovative means for families to remain connected.

Every year, more than 300,000 people move long distances to Canada, reports Many of these new Canadians send money back home to help their family pay for anything from food and education to medical expenses and crisis relief. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, Canadian residents born in Official Development Assistance-eligible countries sent more than $5 billion in cash transfers in 2017.

As physical barriers are broken, consumer expectations have similarly shifted. We now live in an age where speed, convenience and trust are paramount. People want to quickly send money to friends and family around the globe with minimal effort. They want a more personalized approach, more ways to send money to unlock potential and more ways to grow their businesses.

Therefore, those in the financial industry need the digital know-how to unlock new global markets, expand access to their products and services and create new choices and more opportunities for people.

Consumers want options — they always have and always will — so it’s incumbent on our industry to continue to work together to develop technology and close the gap, allowing for easier and more convenient movement of money globally. Similar to our recent collaboration with TD Bank, we need more alliances between established companies that utilize each other’s expertise to meet customers’ growing needs.

Let’s embrace the complexity of a world where cash and digital payments coexist far into the future and create inclusive innovation that offers consumers solutions regardless of where they live on the financial services spectrum.

Molly Shea is head of Americas Network, Western Union.

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