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March 9, 2020
The Cash Battle Escalates
On the first day of a conference I recently attended, I participated in a town hall panel on the "right to choose cash." And on the last day, I presented key findings on cash usage from the Federal Reserve's Diary of Consumer Payment Choice (DCPC).
Between these bookend sessions, there were numerous remarks and discussions in other sessions and during networking breaks about how consumers' use of cash is changing. I heard the phrase "war on cash" quite a bit, although I think "battles against cash" is more accurate. Not surprisingly, the conference was the ATM Industry Association's annual conference.
For an industry whose primary product is currency, we can understand the importance of this topic to the ATM owner and operators.
There is no question that technology has permitted businesses that previously were cash-only to now either exclude cash or allow payment cards. Vending machines, mass transit fares, and parking meters—which all used to be cash-only—are prime examples of this transition. Since we have no federal law requiring businesses to accept cash, a few scattered private business owners have refused to take it. They cite the costs of handling cash and the security risks of robbery and employee theft as major disadvantages. Of course, every payment method has its advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, cash payments are immediate and final, and are highly convenient, especially in natural disasters when electrical and connectivity infrastructure is disrupted.
Cash acceptance also has societal implications. The DCPC results show that unbanked households used cash for almost 62 percent of their payments, compared to 27 percent for underbanked households and 20 percent for fully banked households. (Unbanked households don't have checking or savings accounts, while underbanked households have accounts but also get financial products and services outside of the banking system.)
Additionally, lower income correlates to higher cash usage, as the chart shows.
It is largely because cash-exlcusion practices can harm the un- and underbanked and low-income households that politicians have introduced or enacted legislative action to ban businesses from refusing to accept cash. Massachusetts has had such a ban since 1978 and was recently joined by New Jersey as well as the cities of San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and New York City. The states of Oregon, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Vermont have seen similar bills introduced. At the federal level, H.R. 2650, the Payment Choice Act, has received bipartisan sponsorship (28 Democrats and 8 Republicans) and now sits in the House Financial Services Committee.
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta president Raphael Bostic in recent remarks noted that some of the new ways business owners are conducting business are biased in that they lock out those who still use cash. He suggested that perhaps the definition of financial inclusion needs to be expanded to include the notion that every person should be able to use anywhere the payment channels they rely on for their transactions.
Take On Payments will continue to follow these cash battles.
September 16, 2019
Is There a Generation Gap in Cash Use?
How different are millennials from boomers in their reported payment habits, especially regarding their use of cash? New data from the Survey of Consumer Payment Choice, out this month, lets us look at age segments using the interactive charts accompanying the report.
For example, in 2018, consumers overall made 17 payments a month in cash. Drilling down, consumers aged 25 to 34—that is, millennials—used cash for 15 payments per month. Consumers 55 to 64—the boomers—used cash for 18 payments a month.
It's good to put these numbers in context. Here's a fact that surprised me: the younger group makes more total payments per month (73) than does the older group (67). That means that, as a percentage share of all payments, the difference by age is more pronounced:
- Millennials: 21 percent of their payments in cash
- Boomers: 27 percent of their payments in cash
The differences are similar when we look at paper checks, which the younger group used for 2 payments per month (3 percent of their payments) and the older group for 4 payments per month (6 percent).
You'll notice in the chart that payments instrument usage has been relatively stable for all the age groups since 2015.
Millennials' relatively lower use of cash doesn't mean, however, that the cashless society is going to arrive any time soon. In 2018, 85 of 100 consumers used cash in a typical month. And, in an analysis that incorporates a complete set of demographic variables plus income, differences by age could prove not so relevant. So, is there a generation gap in cash use? Yes. Does it mean the end of cash? No.
The charts at the website let you look at consumer payment choice by household income group and by the type of transaction. For example, you can examine how consumers' use of payment instruments is different for P2P payments than for bill payments. Check them out.
February 19, 2019
Acute Audit Appendicitis
My son came home from school the other day and told me that his friend’s kidney had "popped." With great concern and further investigation, I found out that his friend had suffered from appendicitis but had since recovered. Luckily, fifth grade boys and most of the human race can get along fine without an appendix. And, as it turns out, there is another type of appendix people can live without: Appendix Eight—Audit Requirements—in the NACHA Operating Rules. NACHA members recently voted to cut this part out.
But wait—don’t celebrate too soon. The change doesn’t eliminate the requirement to conduct an annual ACH rules compliance audit. Rather, members voted to modify "the Rules to provide financial institutions [FI] and third-party service providers with greater flexibility in conducting annual Rules compliance audits." Specifically, the change—which was effective January 1, 2019—affected the following areas of the NACHA Operating Rules:
- Article One, Subsection 1.2.2 (Audits of Rules Compliance): Consolidates the core audit requirements described within Appendix Eight under the general obligation of participating DFIs and third-party service providers/senders to conduct an audit.
- Appendix Eight (Rule Compliance Audit Requirements): Eliminates the current language contained within Appendix Eight; combines relevant provisions with the general audit obligation required under Article One, Subsection 1.2.2.
FIs and ACH payment processors must still conduct, either internally or outsourced, an annual audit of their compliance with the ACH rules each year. They also must retain adequate proof of completion for no less than six years and may, during that term, need to provide proof to NACHA or a regulator. And they will have to adjust their audit methodologies to ensure that they comply with all relevant rules rather than just rely on the former Appendix Eight checklist.
The new audit process necessitates a risk-based approach, which is a strategy regulators have been encouraging in recent years. With so many emerging technologies, products, and services in the payments industry, FIs and ACH payment processors can no longer take a one-size-fits-all approach for compliance. They also no longer have a single access point to ACH—rather, they must consider many access points when auditing for Rules compliance.
These institutions may not have previously had to take into account other areas that touch payments. For example, the risk-based audit doesn’t explore just the deposit operations department; it analyzes how the whole enterprise interacts with ACH systems. Additionally, it may need to include loan operations, online account opening, person-to-person (P2P) products, investment management, and other new digital channels.
Life without Appendix Eight will be an adjustment, but its removal won’t be fatal. I think ACH participants will recover quickly and be even healthier—embracing the new risk-based compliance model will likely strengthen enterprise risk management and promote increased safety and stability in our payment systems.
By Jessica Washington, AAP, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed
June 11, 2018
Consumer Habits and Cash Use
As my colleague Doug King pointed out last month, cash is not going away anytime soon, Yanny/Laurel notwithstanding. By number, almost one-third of U.S. consumer payments were made in cash in 2017. Every year since 2008, the Survey of Consumer Payment Choice has found that cash is consumers' most popular or next-most-popular way to pay.
Many factors underlie cash's resilience, including access, current shopping habits, consumer ratings, and demographics.
Universal access. Paypal's chief financial officer commented to the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, "I don't think we will ever be entirely cashless, maybe in large part because I don't know if we will ever be in a world that every person has a smartphone or a mobile device."
Shopping habits. Most purchases—nine in 10—are made in person, not online (2015 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice). And when shopping in person, consumers prefer cash for small-dollar transactions. Two-thirds of U.S. consumers report that they prefer cash for in-person payments of less than $10 (2016 Dairy of Consumer Payment Choice). Forty percent prefer cash for in-person payments between $10 and $25.
Consumer ratings. Consumers say cash is the most cost-effective way to pay. The Survey of Consumer Payment Choice asks respondents to rate the cost of using a particular payment method, taking into account that fees, penalties, interest paid, etc. can raise the cost of a payment method, while discounts and rewards can lower it.
Demographics. People with fewer payment options use cash. That includes low-income people who have less access to credit cards as well as people without bank accounts who have no access to non-prepaid debit cards. It also includes millennials, who used cash for almost 30 percent of their payments in 2016 (Diary of Consumer Payment Choice).
You probably already know that card payments dwarf cash payments—almost 60 percent of consumer payments are made with some type of card, whether it's debit, prepaid, or credit. Yet cash persists. Recently, a new acquaintance told me he "never" uses cash. As evidence, he reported that he had no cash in his pocket, explaining "that's because I used my last $2 to buy coffee this morning."
Hmm. What does this say about the health of cash? What Dave Lott wrote in 2016 is still true today: not dead yet.
Next post: Merchant acceptance and the use of cash
To learn more about consumer payment choices and preferences, visit the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s new consumer payments web page that houses a variety of surveys, studies, and research reports on the topic.
By Claire Greene, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed
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