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RON IN COMMON: A cashless society

ERIC SMITH, [email protected]

RON IN COMMON: A cashless society

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A FEW WEEKS ago the police were warning about the dirty deeds of the skimmers and their efforts to get your money at the ATMs and ABMs.

By now most Bajans should be aware of these tricksters from overseas who come here and do their dirty deeds and then head off to another place to practice their art of deception and theft.

A few days ago, there was a promotion staged by a number of business people introducing Bitcoins to the Barbadian public. Most people may have heard, listened and most likely ignored since it did not appeal to most Bajans. After all, the majority of the people in this small island are interested in Grantleys, Errols and other denominations they know and desire. Of course, Uncle Sam dollars are always welcomed.

Then a few days ago Scotiabank, a pillar in the financial industry sector, announced just out of the blue, that more than 25 people would be losing their pick. Of course nearly every other bank had done some restructuring, reorganising and realignment. This meant that people got sent home.

These are all ominous signs of things to come. Everything is happening so fast, before you can understand and grasp one thing, another happening.

So while Bajans wait to hear about the Estimates and what it really means for them; and how it will impact their lives; or whether the national debt will carry us over the precipice; or even if the Central Bank printing too much money; and what are the concerns about the stability of the National Insurance Scheme, something new and more intriguing happening.

A number of financial experts, economists and yes, some rich countries are proposing that the world moves to a cashless society. Cash is now being touted as from a bygone era. It is like the rotary phone, indeed it is like the telephone landline, almost like the dodo bird.

Cash which was around from before the Bible times and is something which man has killed for, lies and steals for every day, for which a man will sell another man or woman. This piece of paper or coin can determine life or death, success or failure, whether you eat, drink and sleep comfortably.

Just imagine cash could be facing extinction. Not so long ago the Central Bank of Barbados decided to done with the one cent coin.  That decision told how many Bajans love cash as the one cents started to come forth. Then the bank again appealed to Bajans to stop hoarding the silver dollar. Men and women, boys and girls apparently keep them well tucked away; some for a rainy day, others to build a little nest egg at home.

Yes, Bajans like to keep cash, under the bed, at the bottom of the wardrobe, under the fridge, in the bottom of a cushion; somewhere outside in the backyard. All sorts of places they consider just as good as the bank.

So imagine before you can grapple with the changes of a digital world, this new plan is on stream.

Even the Chinese are getting in to this very capitalist cashless movement and while central banks will continue to have a lot of say with monetary policy and issues, they will not be lords and masters under the new system. The private sector will play a big role and yes, the ordinary man is going to have more say over his money and not allow the commercial banks to gorge themselves on your funds. So an end to gouging by the men in pinstriped suits.

Yes, according to the proposition for the cashless society, money movement should be easier, cheaper and faster in this digital world allowing anyone to do their payments online, and this includes making remittances. For tax collectors, anti-money laundering and compliance officials, law enforcers and all the other people and agencies tracing and tracking money and how it is used or mis-used or in any way involved in corruption including bribes, under the table payments and other sordid deals, this may be the God-send solution.

This is an idea that may not sit well with many Bajans. It will take some time to win over many people here. Some may feel that the move to a cashless society is another attempt to introduce Big Brother, albeit a few years late, to watch over  your financial affairs. The fundamentalist Christians will see is as a sure sign of the coming of the Anti-Christ. For sure there will be some form of capital control.

To appreciate the march forward of the cashless society, you only have to look at how it is gaining strong footholds in the following countries – Argentina, Australia, Belgium,  Canada, China, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Uruguay, the U.K. and USA.

I am eager to see the politician who will have to sell any such plan in Bim. Imagine the switch to the Barbados Revenue Authority was a headache, and for some reasons rightly so. Just imagine telling people part with their cash for some new system.

People all across Barbados are already suspicious about politicians and wary about the banks. Some have doubts about credit unions and the experience of Trade Confirmers, the collapse of CL Financial in Trinidad and the ripple effect in Barbados on CLICO and British American Insurance Company. Who will inspire hope to try something new? After all, even with the banks a fellow can go and check the balance and do the same thing at the Credit Union, but when there is no cash, exactly what will happen?

What about a man’s weekly pay or a public officer’s monthly salary? What about the small businesses which like to deal with cash every day such as the ZR vans and minibuses or the beach vendors or even the not so small business people like the doctors, dentists and restaurateurs?

Word is that there was a young businessman, who operated an entertainment establishment on the south coast, and he was so in love with money that he would reportedly have lots of cash in a room, close the door and throw the cash all over him. He may be an exception, since not a lot of people have the pile of cash to do such strange things . But, Bajans love cash.