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Cash is easy to use

Cash is recognised as a convenient and user-friendly payment instrument. Particular efforts are directed towards vulnerable groups such as the blind and visually impaired.

Considerable efforts are put into user-friendly banknote design. Designers focus on making notes easy to recognise and authenticate while difficult to counterfeit. Specific efforts have been aimed at assisting the blind, the visually impaired, and the illiterate to identify the various denominations and their authenticity69. These include different sizes, different colours, large and visible numerals, tactile properties. Various devices are available to help the blind recognise the notes; these range from simple manual tools, which measure the size of the note, to automated readers, particularly in countries such as Canada where all denominations are the same size70. New smartphone applications can now recognise notes, including different currencies by using the camera. It is worth noting that with the ageing population, the number of people with visual impairment is expected to increase.

These efforts are recognised by consumers. The perceptions of different payment instruments has been compared across six countries – Austria, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the US – in Consumer Cash Usage, a Cross-Country Comparison with Payment Survey Data 71. Cash is ranked higher for ease of use than debit cards in three countries – Austria, Canada and Germany – and higher than credit cards in all countries but the US. The authors conclude that the perceived ease of using cash was highly significant and positive.

The European Commission measures the perceptions of the euro, including the practical aspects of handling coins and banknotes, through regular polls covering all 18 member states of the euro zone72. An overwhelming 94% of respondents think that it is easy to recognise and handle euro banknotes. The polls show that 79% of respondents find it easy to distinguish and handle euro coins.

The Dutch Central Bank has been investigating the psychological aspects of choosing a payment method using two innovative approaches: a virtual-reality study and a neuro-scientific study73. The virtual reality study consists of observing payment behaviour and attempting to influence it by manipulating different variables. These include the physical security of the environment, the budget of the participant, the promotion of different payment instruments and time pressure to make the payment. The neuro-scientific study is based on the analysis of brain scans as participants watched videos of cash and card transactions. The scientists observed which part of the brain was stimulated and deduced the emotional perceptions associated with making payments by cash or card.

The authors draw two main conclusions from this research. The first is that the choice of a payment instrument is not driven by a conscious decision but largely by habit. Paying by cash or with a card is essentially part of one’s automatic behaviour. This explains why it is so difficult to influence this choice. Secondly, paying with cash is associated with more positive emotions than paying with a card.