Contactless is now king with London consumers

AFP
UK capital's buskers having to change their tune as cash goes out of fashion.
AFP

For centuries, London has sustained a street-level economy where performers and vendors make a living from the spare change of strangers — but they are being forced to adapt as cash falls out of fashion.

Busker Charlotte Campbell, who sings for her supper almost every day in the shadow of the London Eye top tourist attraction, was one of the first performers to use a contactless card reader.

“Things are changing in London and people tend to use cards to pay for things,” Campbell said. “That makes busking a dying art if people aren’t carrying cash any more.”

Between 5 and 10 percent of Campbell’s income now comes not from coins tossed into her guitar case, but from people tapping bank cards on her reader — set up through her phone to debit 2 pounds (US$2.60) at a time.

A report from the British Treasury earlier this year revealed that cash accounted for 40 percent of all domestic payments by volume in 2016, down from 62 percent in 2006.

The same report predicted its share of payments would fall to 21 percent by 2026 — bringing Britain to the brink of becoming a cashless society.

In January, the government spurred the process by outlawing surcharges for using debit or credit cards in shops, removing one of the only significant downsides to digital payments for consumers. There are other signs in the British capital that businesses are cashing in by banning coins and notes.

But the homeless, refugees and others who struggle to secure bank accounts could be shut out of this new economy. And recent history also seems to vindicate those with concerns about overreliance on card technology.

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