The COVID-19 pandemic has had an astronomical impact on every aspect of everyday life, with cash being no exception.

 

While cash payments were on the decline pre-pandemic, the card movement was largely consumer-led, with many, especially smaller, vendors reluctant to join the digital revolution.

 

But as the world adjusts to living with the threat of infection, knowledge on the new enemy remains at a minimum, and that means caution prevails.

 

Money failed hygiene tests prior to COVID-19, with the virus serving only to exacerbate an unclean reputation.

 

A £20 note is thought to exchange hands 2,328 times during its near 10-year lifespan.

 

And, at the beginning of March, UK media reported the World Health Organisation (WHO) had claimed dirty banknotes may be spreading coronavirus.

 

The widely cited articles also suggested WHO had urged the use of contactless and card payments.

 

WHO later attempted to debunk the reports, claiming they had merely indicated washing hands after handling money would be good hygiene practice, especially when eating or touching food.

 

The clarification understandably did little to calm the storm.

 

The U.S. Federal Reserve began quarantining dollars repatriated from Asia, setting aside shipments for seven to ten days before recirculation.

 

In April, the Bank of England stated that, like any other surface, banknotes can carry bacteria and reiterated WHO’s hand-washing advice.

 

The Bank said the risk in handling notes is “no greater than touching any other common surface, such as handrails, doorknobs or credit cards”.

 

However, for as long as the public are encouraged to not touch items they are not purchasing, and returned clothing is subject to a quarantine, the cash caution will reign.

 

Polling carried out by Nationwide Building Society showed that a fifth of shoppers had resorted to cleaning their cash, with the majority using a disinfectant wipe but a third soaking it in soapy water.

 

Meanwhile, the survey also highlighted that people had gone on average 44 days without using cash at all, with the Building Society seeing contactless payments increase by three million in the week beginning 18 May compared to the first week of lockdown.

 

It was behaviour accelerated by the British Retail Consortium’s decision to increase contactless payment limits on in-store spending from £30 to £45.

 

It took two years to implement the increase in the previous limit of £20, with the newest hike taking only a matter of days.

 

The Consortium’s justification for the decision was to increase choice and cut queues.

 

And, contactless is not just a preferred method for some, it is the only payment accepted.

 

Research undertaken by Which? suggested one in ten people had been refused by shops when attempting to pay in cash.

 

Whether cash flows as freely when knowledge on the virus increases remains to be seen, but as long as doubt exists the digital revolution may have met its greatest advocate in COVID-19.

 

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