Future of cash: Cash is tried and tested and has a future (the Swiss view)..

Given the war on cash, a few “developed countries” like Germany and Swiss are not letting bills disappear that easily. They perhaps understand the issue of how cash prevents privacy much better than others. I shall not be surprised if there are deeper historical reasons behind them.

In this speech, Fritz Zurbrügg, Vice Chairman of the Governing Board of the Swiss National Bank defends cash.

The last few months and years have witnessed a growing debate on the future of cash. Its critics say that cash should be abolished, or that cashless alternatives will in any case gradually render it obsolete. However, to paraphrase Mark Twain: Reports of the death of cash have been greatly exaggerated.

This is reflected in the continuing robust demand for cash on the part of the general public. In many countries, the value of cash in circulation relative to GDP has increased over the last few years; a development that can be attributed to occasional periods of heightened uncertainty about the stability of banks in the wake of the financial crisis. Another factor is the low level of interest rates on transaction accounts, and hence the low opportunity cost of holding cash.

Moreover, surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest that cash is still widely and readily used for payments. This might seem surprising at first glance, given the numerous alternatives to cash, but there are a number of reasons. For instance, people like to use cash for personal reasons, because it allows more effective budget control or because it does not require technical know-how. People’s tastes can change, yet cash has properties that cashless methods do not have to the same extent. It is more reliable, because it does not depend on the use of a technical infrastructure. It also offers comprehensive protection as regards financial privacy. Only the availability of cash guarantees that the data owner really has control over the decision on how much financial information to share, and with whom.

In addition to these demand-side considerations, the SNB itself, as the supplier of banknotes, has no plans to do away with cash. The SNB is mandated by law to ensure the supply and distribution of cash as well as to facilitate and secure the smooth functioning of cashless payment systems. These tasks have equal status. By fulfilling both tasks, the SNB lays the groundwork for the public to choose its preferred method of payment for each individual transaction.

Yet this freedom of choice between payment methods exists only if the public has confidence in both cashless payments and cash. Prerequisites for public confidence in cash are, first, a monetary policy which is geared towards stability and ensures that banknotes and coins retain their value over the long term. Second, banknotes need to be of the highest quality and have the best possible protection against counterfeiting. Switzerland’s new banknote series is a case in point. It meets high standards of safety, design and technology. After all, banknotes are also a symbol for the quality and stability of our currency, as well as one of Switzerland’s ‘calling cards’.

It has to be seen for how long can these few dissenters against war on cash can continue…

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