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Essay

Should cash be king?

By Tan Ying Zhen

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Many people I know love travelling in Japan, but there's one thing they can't get used to: Everywhere you go, cash is king.

For many tourists, it may be difficult to understand why cash is far more prevalent than cashless forms of payment such as debit cards, credit cards and the increasingly common digital wallets like Apple Pay and Android Pay. Many establishments, even pricey restaurants, do not accept credit cards. Some friends have complained about this as they are not used to carrying huge amounts of cash.

I remember getting used to this when I was living in Japan several years ago. I usually had at least a few tens of thousands of yen and a sizeable number of coins with me. The coins were heavy to carry around, but very useful.

A friend said he found this particularly perplexing because Japan is the pioneer and early adopter of various types of advanced technology. He asked, "Why are so many less technologically advanced countries much further ahead of Japan in terms of cashless payments?"

I'm not sure why. But I'm not really a fervent adopter of cashless payment either. I'm a little skeptical of the Singapore government's bid to transform us into a cashless society.

For instance, the Land Transport Authority is aiming for a fully cashless public transport system. Currently, commuters can pay for a bus or train ride by cash or with a travel card — a prepaid smartcard that you can top up electronically if you have a local bank account or credit card.

Proponents of cashless payment often cite advantages such as lower costs and more convenience. But cashless payment systems have their drawbacks. For instance, after the news of the travel smartcards was announced, many people were quick to respond that the move would disadvantage people who are less tech-savvy. The elderly may find it difficult to switch to cashless payment, as they are far more comfortable using cash. Singapore also has a fairly big group of foreign workers. The workers may be paid in cash, and may not have local bank accounts.

That's not the only drawback. Every time we make a cashless payment, we surrender data about our spending habits. How will this data be used by banks and service providers? And what happens when systems fail? Without cash payments as a backup, a simple thing like a power cut could bring about more chaos than we can imagine. Sure, offer cashless payment as an option, but allow people to use cash, if and when they need to.

Should cash be king? It's not an easy question to answer. Perhaps there shouldn't just be one king. Possibly, we could accommodate quite a few different kings. What do you think?

現金が一番?

筆者の友人らが、旅行で日本を訪れた際になかなか馴染めないことの一つが「現金第一主義」だ。いまだにクレジットカードが利用できない施設が多いことは、海外から来た人たちを驚かせている。

The Japan Times ST: December 8, 2017

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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2017年12月22日号    試読・購読   デジタル版
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