Where Does Cash Stand in the Era of Cashless?

May 2021

Cash is no longer king. 2020 was a banner year for cashless payments, as cash fell below a quarter of global consumer payments. Driven down by a global pandemic, cash is being further eclipsed by new cadre of fintechs, card companies and real-time payments, but despite the global decline, it still holds significant cachet in certain regions, and is politically sensitive, leading to legislative action. This briefing offers a snapshot of global cash use and trends in a time of payments upheaval.

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Key Findings

Government policy taking aim at cash in myriad ways

Government policy is increasingly directed at cash usage. For many markets this means establishing means to shift transactions out of cash to help combat tax evasion, fraud and money laundering. Additionally, the financial sector is entering a new era where central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and cryptocurrencies are increasing in relevance.

COVID-19 has accelerated the shift away from cash

COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to cashless payments globally. Early concerns about hygiene and possible virus transmission via currency led many to eschew cash usage, with some governments establishing cash quarantines. Countries with strong payments infrastructure and existing platforms saw more seamless transitions to cashless payment, while some countries with high cash dependence or large unbanked populations struggled to adapt to changing conditions amidst the pandemic.

Fintechs and banks adapt to new opportunities

The disruptive nature of technology has come more slowly to payments than many other sectors of the economy. Nevertheless, fintechs and banks are looking to adapt their models rapidly to a changing environment. This frequently means targeting new unbanked customers as an opportunity for further growth beyond more saturated existing customer bases.

Financial inclusion efforts appearing at opposite ends of a spectrum

In many countries, financial inclusion efforts are taking aim at cash use by looking to embed consumers more directly into the cashless economy. At the opposite end, concerns about the exclusion of portions of society through cashless initiatives and policies have increasingly led to backlashes and campaigns.

Introduction: Global Cash Trends

Key findings
Cash use a major talking point in an increasingly digitised world

Cash Payments Landscape by Region: Western Europe

Western Europe
Consumer payments in Western Europe: at a glance
Western European cash usage heavier in southern markets
Card transactions dominate, but cash in demand for security

Cash Payments Landscape by Region: Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe
Consumer payments in Eastern Europe: at a glance
High cash use despite relatively high banked population
Romania begins to see a shift away from cash

Cash Payments Landscape by Region: North America

North America
Consumer payments in North America: at a glance
Low unbanked share, but a significant underserved population
Cash payments altered significantly by COVID-19 in North America

Cash Payments Landscape by Region: Latin America

Latin America
Consumer payments in Latin America: at a glance
Government action to limit cash a growing refrain in the region
Central government cash replacement apps emerging in LatAm

Cash Payments Landscape by Region: Middle East and Africa

Middle East and Africa
Consumer payments in Middle East and Africa: at a glance
Income disparity and gender roles define use of cash
Government-led mechanisms boost cashless payments in MEA

Cash Payments Landscape by Region: Asia Pacific and Australasia

Asia Pacific and Australasia
Consumer payments in Asia Pacific and Australasia: at a glance
Significant variance in cash fundamentals across the region
Cashless options see growth, but cash defenders unite as well

Global Cash Storylines

The new payments ecosystem
Case study: Easypaisa leads Telenor to acquire a bank in Pakistan
Cashless payments and the economic agenda
The cashless movement and its backlash
National coin shortages and the rise of rounding
Central bank digital currencies hold potential
New solutions in existing consumer segments leading to saturation
The unbanked and underserved in a globe going cashless
Fintech plugging all loopholes to secure cashless payments
Contactless payments driving a future cashless boom

Conclusion: Assessing Opportunities

Exploring the opportunities for cashless and cash payments

Definitions and Notes

Report definitions and notes


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