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CashEssentials: Honing the Debate on the Future of Money

Categories : Cash connects people, Cash is a public good, Cash is a social network, Cash is also a store of value, Cash is trust, Cash protects privacy and anonymity
August 8, 2022
Tags : Cash substitution, Future of Cash, War on Cash
Currency News spoke to CashEssentials' founder and chair, Guillaume Lepecq, to find out more about how CashEssentials seeks to add value and influence public opinion on the social necessity of cash.
Currency News

Currency News covers banknotes and coins from ‘cradle-to-grave’.

This post is also available in: Spanish

Guillaume Lepecq

Chair, CashEssentials

This post is also available in: Spanish

The article was first published in the July 2022 issue of Currency News. It is republished here with the permission of the Editor.

Compared with the resources of the cashless lobby in advocating for a digital payments future, those of the lobby supporting cash are minuscule. That isn’t to say that there aren’t organisations supporting the case for cash – there are several – but their activities are primarily centred around specific regions or sectors and promoting these interests.

One organisation  – indeed the only organisation – that not only spans the entire cash cycle but approaches the whole topic of the future of cash from an inter-disciplinary and academic approach is CashEssentials. This think tank seeks to influence debate and policy regarding money and payments from a societal perspective.

Currency News spoke to founder and chair Guillaume Lepecq, who is also chair of the upcoming and appropriately named Future of Cash conference, to find out more about CashEssentials, and where it seeks to add value and influence change in the approaches to cash as a social necessity.

Q:       First of all, what is CashEssentials?

A:       CashEssentials is a dynamic think tank challenging the notion of a singular future for money (digital or otherwise). To wit, we frame the discussion about the future of cash not only in technological terms but as an all-pervasive societal issue with fundamental implications for inclusion and equality, resilience and efficiency.

To challenge the dominant narrative – to diversify and sophisticate the outlook – we believe in the imperative of an open and transparent ‘Cash Dialogue’ that embraces all sectors of society. The future of money and the monetary system must be fair, resilient, sustainable, inclusive and respectful of individual privacy. It must include a vision for human betterment – no less. To us, a part of that solution is cash.

CashEssentials was formally established in 2018 as a not-for-profit organization. However, the story started in 2016 with the publication of a white paper, ‘Cash Essentials – Beyond Payments’. The report emphasized that cash possesses unique attributes unmatched by digital forms of money. That cash generates societal benefits which are not directly linked to its payment function.

Following the white paper, we first created a website to offer reporting and a critical appraisal of the significant developments across cash, money and payments as they happen.

The story’s final stage consisted of creating a think tank with an independent steering committee, gathering representatives from central banks, academia and the payments world to hone the debate on the future of money.

Q:       What are your objectives?

A:        Some are calling it the ‘War on Cash’. Others are framing money as the ‘New Space Race. Central banks and financial institutions – the traditional money issuers – are being increasingly challenged today by a flotilla of disruptive newcomers from FinTechs and Bigtech to telcos and crypto-assets.

In our view, the form of money is not just a technology issue. It is fundamentally a socio-economic issue.

Our core mission is to monitor ongoing developments and undertake research and analysis on cash and its future while providing a platform for balanced inquiry and debate about cash, payments and monetary systems for the benefit, viability and well-being.

Q:       What are the main activities?

A:        Our activities are articulated around three key pillars.

The first is information: we monitor vital trends and developments in cash, money and payments and contribute to the debate, not only within the cash community but also with the broader community of payments experts, policymakers and regulators, consumer organisations, as well as the humanitarian community. We believe there is an essential need to raise awareness and enhance cash literacy.

The second is research. We produce reports with a view to outcomes: encouraging a regulatory change, bringing influence to bear on the political class; sensitizing businesses to innovation across the cash and payments industry; arguing the ‘case for cash’ creatively in the public policy space. We are domain-specific specialists, but we encourage an open forum approach because cash is the province of the citizenry.

The third pillar is innovation and communication. For instance, we have established the CashTech Forum as a promotional platform enabling innovators across the sector to showcase leading-edge technologies and their original thinking on such industry perennials as bottlenecks in the cash cycle and the costs associated with cash.

Via the Forum, we encourage discussion and exchange around best practices, identify sectoral obstacles and opportunities, and enable cooperation between start-ups, banks, regulators, charities and other non-state interest groups. The Forum is emblematic of CashEssentials’ broadly collegiate approach.

Q:       Who are the stakeholders?

 A:        Our members come from different parts of the cash ecosystem: banknote production, coin minting, and cash management. Several associations are affiliated with CashEssentials or are represented on our steering committee, such as ATMIA, IACA, BnEI, CPCC, ESTA…

Q:       What are you currently working on?

A:        We are currently preparing a Futures Literacy Laboratory on the role of cash in the Future Monetary Landscape in association with the UNESCO Chair for the Future of Finance.

Futures Literacy Labs are an advanced, field-tested methodology for exploring the future and gaining new insights into the nature and impact of imagined futures.

In this Lab, participants will deploy their collective intelligence to present and assess probable and desirable futures of cash. Using action-research/action-learning tools, the Lab will offer the opportunity to analyse the burning questions facing the future of cash. For instance, the fundamental ethical issues related to the future of cash range from loss of privacy to concentration of knowledge and data.

The Lab will take participants beyond deterministic extrapolations and techno-fatalism to examine changes inspired by open and creative futures.

Think of COVID-19. The pandemic showed that futures we take for granted can be called into question in a matter of days while at the same time sparking a powerful need to invent new images of tomorrow. Such events underscore the importance of being able to exercise and diversify why and how the future is imagined.

The Lab will be moderated by Riel Miller, Senior Fellow at Ecole des Ponts Business School and one of the world’s leading strategic foresight designers. Futurists will facilitate sessions – Martin Calnan, UNESCO Chair for Futures Literacy; Petteri Lillberg, Senior Consultant at Demos Helsinki, and experts from the cash community – Katrina Brendle, Deutsche Bundesbank; Päivi Heikkinen, Bank of Finland; Antti Heinonen, former Director of Banknotes at the ECB; Kathleen Young, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco; Richard Wall, former Head of Currency at the Bank of Canada.

The Lab is open to all and is built around three three-hour sessions. The first two will be held remotely on 7 & 8 September, and the final one will be held in person on the 14 of September at the Future of Cash Conference in Madrid.

Q:       To conclude, are you optimistic about the future of Cash?

A:        We see some positive signals.

The exceptional growth of cash in circulation worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the global trust in cash. This trust makes cash the store of value safety net.

The emergence of CashTech – including start-ups and new entrants – indicates that providing cash services can be a profitable business. We are also seeing several central banks and regulators address the issue of access to and acceptance of cash. Australia, the euro area, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the US and others are all looking at preserving the cash infrastructure.

We should welcome these policy changes. But this is far from enough.

They are focusing exclusively on the supply side. I think there is a massive need to act on the demand side. Payment service providers and governments have very effectively nudged consumers away from cash. We need to nudge them back. There is a huge need for a cash literacy programme to educate people on cash’s social and economic importance.

Cash is, after all, an enabler of social connections, perhaps what we need most after years of lockdown and digital interactions.

This post is also available in: Spanish