Cashless future underway as Canadian consumers have more credit, debit and app options than ever
Although they all have their limitations, consumers have more ways to pay than ever before
Maureen Turner still makes a point of carrying coins and bills in her wallet — but not for her own personal use.
"I have four kids, and often the teenagers will say: 'I need $20 for lunch at school,"' says the Georgetown, Ont., resident, whose children range in age from five to 15.
"I keep cash in my wallet sometimes just for my kids. Anything else I don't see why I would need it."
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Turner, a 42-year-old account executive and social media strategist for a PR firm, relies on her debit card for purchases, and also uses mobile apps for banking and coffee runs at Starbucks.
She's among a growing number of Canadians finding there's no longer a real need to carry cash.
An online survey of 1,000 people conducted by processing payments firm Moneris earlier this year found that 77 per cent of respondents preferred to pay for purchases by debit or credit card, and 65 per cent said they rarely buy anything with cash anymore.
"I think we're at a point where you don't need cash for most of what you need to do today," says Rob Cameron, chief product and marketing officer for Moneris.
"I do think people will continue to use cash because it's been around so long.... But this growth in contactless (payments using credit cards or mobile apps) I think is going to lead towards that end of cash."
Tap & pay is growing fast
Moneris data shows a 162 per cent increase in tap transactions for the third quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2014.
Most Canadian banks have their own mobile apps that allow for some tap-based purchases — although there are varying limitations around which credit cards can be attached to accounts, what mobile operating systems are compatible, and which wireless carriers are on board.
2015 also saw the official launch of Apple Pay in Canada, although it, too, is limited. It's only compatible with the newest iPhones and the Apple Watch, and can only be linked up with an American Express credit card.
David Wolman says he encountered just a few hiccups when he decided to shun cash for a year, which he documented in his book The End of Money.
"There were three or four times that I was totally in a pickle," he recalls during an interview from Portland, Ore.
"Travelling to India, it was like 'Oops! I'm going to have to hit the pause button on this experiment if I want to leave the airport."'
Wolman says his experiment brought into focus how mobile technology could benefit those who don't already have access to money in electronic form.
We're already having trouble paying what we owe. Do we really need to make it easier to part with our money?- Debt counsellor Jeff Schwartz
"That doesn't mean at the same time you're shaking a pom-pom hoping for the death of cash. It's just an indication that these new tools have a profound effect. It's not just cutesy technophilia."
Participants in a Toronto Region Board of Trade panel on Canada's readiness for a cashless future pointed to advantages for both buyers and sellers in embracing high-tech transactions.
Data from cashless transactions can help businesses make better strategic decisions and woo consumers.
"A lot of what you see happening in the marketplace today is ... (enhancing) the consumer experience — so reward them in a way that matters, really targeted offers," says Wendy Braithwaite, head of market development at MasterCard Canada.
"I think that without being part of the electronic payments system, small merchants miss that."
Jessica Mills, director of brand management for Starbucks Canada, says one in five of the coffee chain's North American customers uses mobile devices to pay for purchases. She describes growth in the last 18 to 24 months as "exponential."
Mills says "peer influence" has been the strongest driver in boosting the adoption rate of mobile purchasing.
"Our biggest advocates are those that are already on the program and using their app frequently. They're telling their friends about it. They're showing their peers in line about it."
While there is an obvious convenience to mobile and credit card payments, a consumer debt expert says shoppers still need to set spending limits to avoid spiralling into debt.
"Without the physical attribute of taking cash out of your wallet and paying for something, we're missing one of the senses that allow us that brake on some of the decisions that we make," says Jeff Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada.
"This disconnect is a concern because with the average Canadian over $20,000 in debt on the unsecured side, it's a challenge. So we're already having trouble paying what we owe. Do we really need to make it easier to part with our money?"