Our recent research paper on Britcoin examined several of the failures in the digital payments industry that have gone unresolved.
The paper is entitled ‘CAPTURE – BigTech and Digital Payment Giants dominate the committees evaluating the replacement of physical cash with ‘Britcoin’ – a UK ‘Central Bank Digital Currency’’.
You can find a click-through to the full paper here:
There has been much noise from the government and from authorities about their supposed desire to protect access to physical cash, albeit that any representations are undermined by sub-clauses such as ‘for those that need it’, and by the process being managed by representatives of the digital payments industry, suitably masked as ‘The Payment System Regulator Panel’.
There have been the normal ‘review’, the normal endorsements of the review by its opponents, and normal half-baked action plans, in this case called ‘Banking Hubs’. The problem with a Banking Hub is that its service scope and level, by being benchmarked to what a current bank branch might offer, accepts the erosions of the past decade that have undermined both physical cash and cheques as viable payment means. These erosions include cash collection at customer premises, cheque guarantee card, automatic reissuance of a cheque book and many, many more.
Now we are even promised legal protection for access to cash. This legislation is doomed to fail, and has probably been drafted to that end. The Queen’s Speech, delivered on 10 May 2022, presaged this let-down. The ‘protection’ is to be afforded in the new Financial Services and Markets Bill. One might be forgiven for believing that it was meant to ensure economically viable and convenient services to withdraw and deposit cash, for both consumer and business users. However, the Lobby Pack issued under the Prime Minister’s name pp. 55-6 blandly states the related objective as ‘Ensuring that people across the UK continue to be able to access their own cash with ease’.
This phrase contains the seeds of the continuing destruction of physical cash:
- It accepts the current, degraded level of service as the benchmark, presupposing that ‘people’ can withdraw their own cash with ease now, when they cannot;
- It ignores the depositing side of the equation;
- There is no mention of the UK’s 5.6 million private businesses as cash users;
- There is therefore no mention of businesses’ need to deposit cash if they are to accept it;
- There is no obligation on businesses to accept cash;
- There is no acknowledgement of a key advantage for businesses of accepting cash, namely that the business receives the full face value of the sale, and not the sale value less the very substantial deductions-from-face-value imposed when payment cards are used. If the business can give out a portion of that cash received as change, or pay suppliers with it, they experience no bank fees and no deductions – which is not at all to the taste of proponents of digital payments.
That’s what happens when the handling of the issue is delegated to an organization – the Payment Systems Regulator – which has shown its partiality towards digital payments within the Access to Cash process: it engineered as one of the outcomes that another committee composed of delegates from the digital payments industry should be convened – called the Digital Payments Initiative – to propose substitutes for physical cash. This committee produced an uninspiring report to which the PSR responded enthusiastically, in point 1.5 of its Executive Summary on p. 3, that ‘Removing barriers to new digital payment services, to better meet people’s needs, is part of our remit’.
The actions of the government and the other payment authorities towards Access to Cash are a disingenuous puppet show: weasel words are spoken, destined-to-fail initiatives are kicked off, and a number of proponents of cash are unwise enough to play along with the charade. And if Barclays in particular are persuaded to open a two-days-a-week-for-two-hours service in a village community centre when they close a full-service branch, they can be relied upon to roll out the Premier League Trophy – or something that looks very like it – to assure local dignitaries of their unswerving commitment to wherever it is this week that they are shutting up shop.
 https://www.accesstocash.org.uk/ accessed on 6 January 2023
 https://www.ukfinance.org.uk/our-expertise/personal-banking/access-cash accessed on 6 January 2023
 https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/sep/06/more-banking-hubs-to-open-across-uk-to-tackle-branch-and-atm-closures accessed on 6 January 2023
 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-powers-to-protect-access-to-cash accessed on 6 January 2023
 https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/queens-speech-2022 accessed on 15 May 2022
 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-law-to-protect-access-to-cash-announced-in-queens-speech accessed on 15 May 2022
 ‘Business Statistics’: House of Commons Library Research Briefing Number CBP 06152 dated 21 December 2021 p. 4
 psr-response-to-digital-payments-initiative.pdf available through www.psr.org.uk