Volumatic survey finds support for cash but also some misconceptions post-COVID

25 March 2022

With the end of restrictions and the government’s insistence that we all now need to ‘learn to live with COVID’, the majority of the UK is now starting to return to normal, keen to put the past couple of years behind them.

The end of restrictions has seen once struggling businesses thriving again, as consumers return to the high street, preferring to shop in person after suffering from online shopping fatigue. Restaurants, cafes and leisure facilities are also seeing a boom in trade again as consumers once again return for meals, days out, special occasions and family fun.

But while businesses are adjusting to a new normal with COVID-19 in the background, it seems that some of the misconceptions around cash usage that reared their ugly heads during lockdown still persist, despite ongoing support for cash and a definite demand for payment choice from consumers.

Thought leaders and cash handling experts Volumatic were keen to determine the mindset of retailers and their customers in this post-pandemic world, so conducted a survey posing a number of cash-related questions at their recent Cash 2030 conference, and the results offered us some interesting perspectives.

Cash Usage

93% of our respondents told us that their cash takings had gone down during the pandemic - hardly surprising when reports circulated at the start of lockdown around how the virus could be easily spread via handling cash.

However, despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) since dismissing these fears, declaring that the virus was very unlikely to be spread by cash, and the risk of transmission was the same for any payment method, be it card, cash or mobile, even two years later rumours still persist that cash is essentially ‘dirty’, with 56% of businesses we asked stating they believed cash usage was still a COVID-19 hygiene issue.

While the data we received at the conference from our industry experts like Enryo and The Bank of England clearly showed that cash payments have increased vastly in recent months, and in some cases are almost back to pre-COVID levels, only 27% of those we asked said that their cash payments have increased post-pandemic, which shows that consumers are still perhaps wary of using cash or not aware that cash is being accepted again.

This is perhaps due to cash not being promoted widely by some businesses – while all our attendees told us they still accepted cash, only 38% actively promote cash payments, while 81% promote card payments, which is surprising in light of the rising fees imposed by card issuers.

Access to Cash

In terms of helping customers who need access to cash, only 7% of businesses we polled said they offer cashback without purchase, though a further 7% plan to offer this service in the near future. While it is positive news that this kind of service is growing, it’s questionable whether this is enough to help the thousands of people around the UK who are struggling to access cash due to the growing number of local bank closures.

Retail businesses were however more in favour of providing access to cash for their customers via ATMs, with 75% of businesses stating they had an ATM, and 80% of those being free to use.

Encouragingly, 75% of businesses said they still expect to have an ATM on site in 5 years’ time, which indicates they not expecting the demand for cash to reduce anytime soon.

Self-Service Checkouts

As the rise of self-service checkouts continues, our survey wanted to find out how many businesses used them and whether they promoted cash usage.

56% of the businesses we asked operate self-service checkouts in their stores, with a further 19% planning to introduce them soon.

Just over half (51%) of these self-service checkouts are operated as card only, meaning they don’t accept cash, however, as cash usage continues to grow, 73% of businesses said they expected their percentage of cashless checkouts to reduce over the coming months.

Cash in Transit Services

While a lot of resistance has been felt regarding rising fees for card payments, our retailers were also concerned about Cash in Transit (CiT) costs. CiT services were used by all the businesses we surveyed. While 53% revealed that their CiT collections have reduced since the pandemic began, 40% said their collections had remained the same, and 7% said they are now having more CiT collection than before COVID.

And while it was clear from discussions during the conference that businesses wanted to support cash usage and provide customers with access to cash, they also felt that all businesses who accept cash should be getting more industry and government support to make this more viable, especially in regards to CiT costs – something The Bank of England told us was currently being reviewed.

James Harris, MD at Volumatic, who hosted the Cash 2030 conference said: “Our Cash 2030 conference was conceived to bring together industry experts with businesses working with cash every day and to discuss the challenges they face and the future of cash.”

“Our survey uncovered some interesting results and it was surprising to find businesses still viewing cash as a COVID-19 hygiene issue when this has widely been disproven by WHO.”

“Volumatic are committed to dispelling these myths and to reassuring both businesses and consumers that cash poses no COVID risks and that cash payments are still very much in demand and should not be discouraged.”

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