Paper money can be touched by a staggering number of people during its lifecycle. The average $1 or $5 bill, for instance, changes hands more than 100 times per year! While this can mean that many germ-infected hands can touch that same bill, with the case of airborne illness such as COVID-19—otherwise known as novel coronavirus—it likely only matters who touched that bill LAST.
U.S. paper currency is made from 75% cotton and 25% linen, so germs adhere more easily and survive longer than on smoother surfaces. The flu has been said to live on paper money for up to 17 days, and while no official data has been released on how long the coronavirus may live on the same cash currency, countries such as South Korea and China are actually burning and/or using a deep cleaning method on money in the hopes of ridding it of any potential coronavirus infection. In addition, Paris was one of the first areas to ban cash at certain attractions during this outbreak.
There is a debate across the financial industry on how to address the growing concerns that paper bills might transmit the virus. According to a recent Bloomberg article, certain banks and industry group have urged the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to issue a statement that assures Americans that cash poses a minimal risk. However, fear is real amongst retailers as well. According to the Seattle Times, the city’s popular burger chain Dick’s Drive-In is posting a notice on its windows: “In an abundance of caution, we ask you to please pay with credit or debit card if possible rather than cash.”
As part of the measures to help quash the spread of the coronavirus, President Trump even tweeted to encourage people to use TAP AND PAY systems versus cash. While such measures are certainly recommended during this pandemic, the push for contactless payment methods has been on the rise for years.
While no one knows exactly how long coronavirus will be the global concern that it is today, other such airborne diseases may have similar consequences in the future and of course many that have been around for decades, such as the flu, continue. These concerns as well as the simple fact that the use of contactless payments is more convenient than cash means businesses should be poised to transact in this way.
While not specifically for sanitary or health-related reasons, the payments industry including Nuvei has been touting the benefits of contactless transactions for years, especially after the EMV compliance mandate. For merchants that have not yet adopted this more secure, convenient means of point-of-sale payments, it’s an opportunity to benefit from both newfound public perception of cash and modern features such as NFC contactless card acceptance, plus mobile wallet compatibility.
Final thoughts… Did you know that globally, Sweden leads the way as the most cashless country? Predictions are that it will become the world's first 100% cashless society by 2023. Will the Coronavirus or similar threats speed up the adoption of digital, contactless payments and further the demise of cash elsewhere? Time will tell.