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Take On Payments, a blog sponsored by the Retail Payments Risk Forum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is intended to foster dialogue on emerging risks in retail payment systems and enhance collaborative efforts to improve risk detection and mitigation. We encourage your active participation in Take on Payments and look forward to collaborating with you.

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May 29, 2018

Laurel or Yanny? Cash or Card?

The latest and greatest trend on the Internet is the debate over whether you hear a recorded voice say "Laurel" or "Yanny." While I don't intend to get into the science of the phenomenon, I do find it fascinating (and completely ridiculous) that anyone would hear "Yanny." As I was thinking about this current crazed conundrum, the payments geek in me started to relate the Laurel-versus-Yanny debate to the payments industry.

It seems that we in the Retail Payments Risk Forum get asked at least monthly when the United States will become cashless. Our short answer is "never." Some people still prefer to pay with cash for many items, especially small-dollar purchases. In fact, a hamburger chain launched a cashless location during the past year only to find out that some of its customers were not happy that they were unable to pay with cash. And a large online retailer just announced a partnership that will allow its customers to use cash for purchasing gift cards to use on its website.

On the flip side, there are those (and I am smiling at one of my Risk Forum colleagues) who wince at the thought of making a paper-based payment, including cash, for anything. Here in the United States, we have embraced payments choice for consumers. And while I might be someone who prefers to pay with a credit card, I have close friends who prefer debit cards. I even know a few people who prefer to use their mobile phones.

Science can explain why people might hear a word differently. Perhaps we also need science to understand the factors that have a role in driving payment preferences—factors that might include past behavior and experiences, socioeconomic status, and incentives. Nevertheless, the fact remains that you will have your Laurels and your Yannys in payments, and oftentimes the two sides won't understand why the other would ever want to pay with their preferred method.

Research can get caught up in the hysteria that surrounds emerging payments and fintech and overlook established forms of payments. But let the Laurel-and-Yanny debate serve as a reminder that differences among consumers in payment preferences will always exist. Let's not lose sight of those established forms of payments that remain vitally important to commerce, even as the industry races to implement new technologies and systems.

To learn more about consumer payment choices and preferences, be on the lookout for the June 1 launch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's new consumer payments web pages that house a variety of surveys, studies, and research reports on the topic.

Photo of Douglas King By Douglas A. King, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed