While countless responsible folk do their part to combat the reach of the COVID-19 pandemic by staying at home as much as possible, the role of cash in helping those most affected may be going unnoticed.
As we find ourselves in this reflective period, we'd like to take a moment to shed some light on 5 ways we've noticed cash helping people cope with the virus.
Cash gives a sense of security
There's a misconception going around, that those staying home to combat the virus are depending exclusively on online payments. But this couldn't be further from the truth. Cash was in such high demand last week that at least one Bank of America branch wasn’t able to satisfy some customers.
If you're doing your part by staying at home as much as possible, every excursion counts. Carrying both cards and cash guarantees not having to go home and go out again if the card reader stops working or if your card is suddenly blocked. When people use cards, and still carry a cash as a backup, are they not still technically using cash? Indeed, cash fulfill its role as a store-of-value admirably. What a time to reevaluate how cash gives its carrier a sense of unshakable security lacking in times of uncertainty.
Cash is a vote for financial inclusion
If you are lucky enough to enjoy the options of using cash, card and mobile payments, it is now the time to use cash for the sake of others. For the millions who are unbanked, cash is their only option and they are vulnerable to being severely ostracized in a digital payments society spurred on by misinformation and fear-mongering. By choosing to use cash for your few excursions, you are telling payments policymakers that fakenews has not curved your determination to ensure they continue to cater to everyone's needs. Various central banks have released statements to remind the public to keep using cash for similar reasons.
Cash defends freedom from a possible surveillance state
There is an overblown concern about cash transmitting the virus, but this concern is as dangerous as it is nonsensical. All dry surfaces carry some risk, and there's no evidence suggesting cash carries a higher risk than other payment tools. In fact, coins are “are actually very bad environments for viruses to survive,” according to Dr Tait-Burkard, while card readers often carry more germs, and mobile phones carry their own risks because they are habitually pressed against the user's face during calls.
What many haven't noticed is how the risk of sliding into a surveillance state right now is high, so falsely denouncing cash in favor of non-cash payments is one major step, or, rather, stumble in that direction. Authorities are looking at every option to combat the pandemic - including tracking entire populations, their movements and electronic transactions - inadvertently paving the way for more invasive forms of snooping later. Meanwhile, non-cash payment providers are seeing opportunities to push their own agendas. And yet, fears of contamination will eventually be surpassed by a fear of being constantly monitored.
To secure the public's right to privacy and the freedom of choice, there needs to be a collective pushback against menacing opportunists – which can be done by keeping cash - it is a time for empathy, solidarity and responsibility. Simply speaking up against cash bans could help. In the words of award-winning author and anthropologist, Yuval Noah Harari, "When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of world we will inhabit once the storm passes".
Cash allows for the freedom to support each other
If there is anything that can restore faith in humanity, it is everyday acts of compassion. Everywhere, people are choosing to support their local artists, restaurants and business owners anonymously by donating envelopes of cash. Some residents have offered to help their self-isolating neighbors with errands, making cash the easiest way of settling loans between them. Governments are even encouraging residents to support their local businesses with cash in particular, because it's "best".
Cash means charities can help immediately
So, why is cash virtually irreplaceable? Because even in times of crisis, cash works. It works for everyone, immediately and establishes a sense of empowerment when the user would otherwise feel powerless. In short, when it matters, cash matters.
If having the freedom to use cash has helped you, and you'd like to share your story, please reach out to us via email at [email protected] or via social media @CashMattersOrg.