Digital payment adoption remains strong, but cash still rules

WHO continues to support use of cash for businesses but advises for more precautions


By Meg McLachlan

Despite the increasing use of digital payments since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Vancouver businesses are still accepting cash.

Many coffee shops, breweries and retail stores only accepted credit and debit cards when they reopened this spring, believing the virus can be transmitted through contact with money.

Some businesses decided to accept physical money and mitigate the risks with higher cleaning standards.

“We did at the beginning just use card[s], but with all of our cleaning procedures that we have to do, we take cash because we are super safe,” said Carolyn Snow, an employee of Finches Tea House located on West Pender. 

Since the pandemic, 12 per cent of Canadians have had cash payments refused by merchants, according to a recent survey conducted by the Bank of Canada.

A handful of Vancouver-based businesses are still not taking cash from patrons.

33 Acres, a Vancouver-based brewery, has not accepted cash since they reopened and have no plans on changing that policy, citing the lack of hygiene associated with cash.

Oct. 25, 2020: A gloved hand holds cash, Vancouver, BC, Oct. 25, 2020. (Meg McLachlan/Photo)

Why does cash not seem like a great idea?

According to a study done by the World Health Organization, the COVID virus can be found on surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic for up to 72 hours. However, the WHO has not recommended against the use of money, but is reminding people to wash their hands after handling cash.

The Bank of Canada in a report strongly encourages businesses to continue to accept cash. Refusing money from a customer can put some people at risk who do not have other forms of payment, especially for food and pharmaceuticals.

Most Vancouver businesses accept all cash, card and digital forms of payment.

“[When] we opened our door and did cashless for a couple of weeks, [we] realized quickly that a lot of people have cash and … you turn the cash away, you turn the sale away,” said Miles Wishlow, owner of The Corner Store, a high-end clothing company in Mount Pleasant.

However, a cashless economy might be in the future following trends seen in digital currencies.

“One of the things that governments are thinking about right now is introducing government digital currency. Central Bank digital currency … which could potentially be replacing physical cash,” said Lucas Herrenbrueck, an associate professor of economics at SFU. 

The pandemic could be responsible for fast-tracking the switch to digital currency. 

According to a report published by the Bank of Canada, 35 per cent of Canadians reported decreasing their use of cash as a result of the pandemic.

It is unclear what the exact cause of the decrease is. But nevertheless, this may be the beginning signs of consumer’s doubt in physical cash.

“Metal coins [are] a social convention, just like paper money is and just like digital money is becoming,” Herrenbrueck said 

“Paper money works fine, as long as everyone trusts in it, and it is a problem when everyone doesn’t.”

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