Cash or card – will COVID-19 kill cash?
DW Documentary, November 24, 2020
More and more people are paying with cards or apps these days. Could COVID-19 spell the end of cash? Many people have switched to contactless payment because of fears that the coronavirus might be transmitted by bills and coins. They even use debit cards for small sums at the bakery or newsagent’s. Electronic payment systems are on the rise.
Germany is torn. Up to now, Germans have been known for their love of cash. The country has been famously reluctant to embrace payment by card or app. But since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis more and more people have switched to paying electronically. For many months, it was unclear whether the virus could spread on paper currency and coins. It’s now believed that the risk of COVID-19 transmission on money is low. But the pandemic has amped up the trend toward cash-free payments in Germany. According to a survey by the Association of German Banks, almost 60 percent of people in Germany now pay by debit or credit card, or with smartphone apps. Marion Labouré, a strategist at Deutsche Bank and Harvard lecturer, has carried out research in this field. She says South Korea and China have even put bank notes into quarantine and destroyed bills. ‘The US Central Bank is another example,’ she adds. ‘Cash is definitely being used by fewer and fewer people. Last December, one third of Germans paid with cards or apps, now it’s about 50 percent.’
Credit card companies, which charge fees to retailers, are profiting from this development. But data protection advocates warn that information is gathered, stored and often passed on with each electronic transaction. Sarah Spiekermann, a professor at the University of Economics and Business in Vienna, has warned of the serious consequences of this kind of surveillance capitalism: ‘Ordinary people, people who are quite similar to one another, will find themselves paying different prices for flights and hotel bookings, for instance, or they might be refused insurance or be passed over for job offers.’
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