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Going Cashless During the Pandemic

By Andrea Lanteigne

Senior, English Major, IUPUI

He walks into a bank with a mask on and no one says anything besides, “Welcome.” He notices the handful of people inside as he lets the teller, also wearing a mask, know that he has an appointment. The banker comes out with a mask on and greets him staying six feet apart; there is no handshake. They both walk into an office with a sheet of plexiglass between them.

I am an essential worker at a bank and have been watching the changes a pandemic brings to that industry and others.

I am also finishing college. I’ve been chipping away at my degree at IUPUI since 2009 working in the banking industry for the last five years as a teller and most recently as a banker around Indianapolis. Banking has changed drastically since 2016. With appointments offered via phone, although in-person is still encouraged, our society is becoming cash-less and COVID seems to be speeding up that transition.

With the invention of the “tap and pay” Point of Sale (or POS), Apple Pay, and Google Pay among many others, we don’t need cash. I haven’t carried cash for about 10 years now. I’ve had a debit card since I started college. That first college refund check I received in the mail went directly into a checking account and I got my first debit card.

The last time I carried any cash was to go to a public laundromat. Why? It’s easier to track my expenses. I learned back in my early years of college that if I pay in cash, I don’t remember how much I spent at the grocery store. If I use my card or even Apple Pay, I can see all of my transactions whenever I want. Then, I know whether I overspent on clothes at Kohl’s.

As a college student, budgeting is essential. It seems most students use their debit cards rather than cash. The vending machines on the IUPUI campus even take debit cards now. The vending machines took only cash when I started college, so the temptation for snacks was a little less.

We’ve always heard that “cash is king,” but that is no longer the case. Jan Bellens from EY, a global company in the economic sector says COVID has changed the way people bank and it “contributed to a 57% fall in cash usage.”

This is no different in colleges where you can use your debit card to pay for just about everything now. Students simply don’t have a reason to use cash. When I was on campus for my Advanced Fiction Writing class before everything shut down in early 2020, I could already pay the parking garage for the day, buy a Cherry Coke from a vending machine, and buy school supplies at the bookstore all with my debit card. There was nothing on campus I couldn’t buy with my debit card.

Technological advancement in the banking industry has generally moved slowly. There have been many features in recent years including mobile check deposit, transfers, and even stock trading. But Daphne Foreman from Forbes Advisor says that COVID managed to get the U.S. on the bandwagon with contactless payments in 2020. Contactless payment options don’t always require the use of a debit card. I can use my phone or my watch to pay for gas. Many think that going completely cashless is right on the horizon. On campus, that could be right around the corner.

I remember my fellow teller coworkers freaking out because we all knew how dirty money was. We were all concerned that we would get the virus from cash. This fear of cash and touching things from COVID has opened up the market for contactless payments. Foreman says “In 2018, only 3% of cards in use in the U.S. were contactless, compared to around 64% in the U.K. and up to 96% in South Korea…Between March 2019 and April 2020, overall contactless card usage in the U.S. grew by 150%.”

Personally, I love my touchless cards. Avoiding those keypads is nice when they work. From my personal experience that has been fairly intermittent as with new technology— there are always drawbacks.

One of these drawbacks is cyber security. Foreman explains that there have been upticks in criminal activity via cyber-attacks with the FBI receiving about “4,000 complaints a day about cyberattacks during Covid-19.” Security is the biggest drawback of going cashless. With cash we are aware of the threat of carrying it. With everything going digital, we aren’t always aware of our online wallet. Afterall, it’s no longer physical. We can’t see the invisible threats.

Hopefully unlike COVID-19, the threats to our digital wallet won’t catch us by surprise.

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