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27 April 2012

Cashless in 8 years? Informal survey says 'yes'

Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University in Elon, N.C. have released the results of their survey titled "The Future of Money in a Mobile Age." The survey recruited 1,021 technology experts and stakeholders and asked them what people's wallets might look like in 2020. The answer from two-thirds of respondents: "emptier."

Fully 65 percent of those surveyed thought "cash and credit cards will have mostly disappeared from transactions that occur in advanced countries." They said the next few years will see the wide adoption of smart devices to make purchases, nearly eliminating the need for cash or credit cards. 

"There is nothing more imaginary than a monetary system," said Harvard professor Susan Crawford in the report. Crawford also served as special assistant for technology policy for President Barack Obama.

"The idea that we solemnly hand around printed slips of paper in exchange for food and water shows just how trusting and fond of patterned behavior we human beings are," Crawford said. "So why not take the next step? Of course we'll move to even more abstract representations of value."

Still, 33 percent of experts surveyed believed that "payments through the use of mobile devices will not have gained a lot of traction as a method for transactions" by 2020, and that "[c]ash and credit cards will still be the dominant method of carrying out transactions in advanced countries."

"Cash — tangible, hold it in your hand dollars — has been around for millennia," said Jeff Eisenach of Navigant Economics LLC. "It won’t go away in a decade."

Pew acknowledged that its survey is well short of scientific. According to the report, "[T]his survey should not be taken as a representative canvassing of Internet experts." The report notes the survey was an opt-in, non-random effort, meaning that "results are not projectable to any population other than the respondents in this sample."

Still, the survey does provide an interesting look at the polarity of opinions about the future of cash — even among experts in the payments world.

The survey data and selected responses can be found at the Pew Internet and American Life Project site.


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