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The Watch House, a stone’s throw from Tower Bridge in London, plays the part of the hipster café very well. Sourdough bread is stacked on shelves, baskets brim with oranges and avocados, and tables are abuzz with young professionals on laptops and a smattering of foreign visitors who have strayed off the main tourist trail. So far, so predictable. But the Watch House’s modernity has gone a step further. Since the start of the year, this has been a cashless café.

Manager Emma Burgess, who heads a team of waiters armed with iPads, says it was a smooth transition. “Eighty per cent of our customers were already paying with cards, so it was a logical next step.” Banning cash not only chimes with the feel of the place, it has saved time and money — a 45-minute bank run two or three times a week. Crucially, it has also made the Watch House safer. “Late last year,” says Burgess, “we had four break-ins within two months, where thieves targeted our cash takings. That was the driving force for this: security.”

And yet, for all the logic of the café’s decision, the set-up is pretty unusual. Defying predictions that cash is doomed, the volume of notes and coins in the world is actually on the increase. Economists suspect a combination of factors: the low interest rates available on bank deposits, a post-crisis distrust of financial institutions and a growing informal economy.

Today there are 500 billion banknotes and trillions of coins in circulation. According to a recent report from G4S, which manages cash distribution systems, physical money now accounts for 9.6 per cent of global gross domestic product, up from 8.1 per cent in 2011. A trendy London café is one thing. But a completely cashless economy is hard to imagine any time soon.
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Patrick Jenkins
Financial Times
May 10, 2018

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