Should we prepare ourselves for a cashless future? Not according to De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB), which is ready to ward off any large scale attempts by card schemes and retailers to abandon notes and coins in favour of plastic and electronic payments.
In a bulletin posted on its Web site, the Dutch central bank says it is committed to "maintaining cash as a universally useable and available payment instrument and a smoothly functioning cash chain".
The latest research by DNB reveals that the volume of debit card payments at Dutch points of sale has increased from €81 billion in 2010 to €84 billion in 2012. At the same time, cash withdrawals at ATMs dropped from €52 billion in 2010 to €49 billion in 2012.
So in terms of sales, the card has overtaken cash, but in terms of transaction numbers, cash is still the dominant means of payment, with 3.8 billion cash payments made at Dutch counters in 2012, against 2.5 billion card transactions.
While acknowledging the desirable efficiency gains of debit card usage, the bank points out that cash is still the only means of payment that is accepted virtually everywhere, while it also serves as the principal alternative in case the electronic payment chain should break down. It also has a key role to play in promoting financial inclusion among the underbanked sectors of the economy and preserving the consumer's right to privacy, says the Dutch central bank.
In March this year, a group of Dutch banks and MasterCard held a special musical, cashless 'thank you' event for the country's shop workers to reward them for their endeavours in promoting the use of plastic cards over physical currency. All 1700 attendees were given PayPass bracelets loaded with EUR7.50, enabling them to pay for refreshments with a flick of their wrists using MasterCard's contactless payment technology.
While not frowning per se on the current experiments with cashless shops, DNB says that it would regard any larger-scale refusal or pricing of cash payments as "undesirable".
"DNB expects cash to remain indispensable for some time to come," says tthe central bank bulletin. "For this reason, cash should remain generally available as an all-purpose means of payment, implying that consumers must be readily able to withdraw and deposit cash from and into their bank accounts. Retailers, in turn, should have easy means at their disposal to deposit counter receipts into their bank accounts."