When we talk about cash safety at GardaWorld, we are usually focused on helping customers protect their money from risks like theft, errors, and shrinkage. But recently, another element of cash safety has risen to the forefront: the physical safety and cleanliness of handling cash itself.
"Fear of Virus-Tainted Dollars Opens New Front in War on Cash," proclaimed an article in Bloomberg earlier this year, as the pandemic first took hold. There are many noteworthy aspects to these developments in the so-called “war on cash” — from disagreements over the actual contagion risks of cash's cotton-and-linen weave, to concerns around reduced access for unbanked individuals where cash is not accepted, to credit card companies seeking to benefit.
Science suggests that worries of spreading Covid-19 via inanimate surfaces may be overblown. For many reasons, cash will and should continue to be a mainstay. But its hygiene is on the minds of customers and workers, and so it must also be on the minds of businesses that serve and employ them. To explore this pertinent subject, we spoke with retail and consumer strategist Brandon Rael, an operational change agent who currently leads as Executive Director of Impact Analytics.
Keeping a finger on the pulse of consumer trends and innovations in retail, Brandon offers a compelling perspective on customer-first practices. We asked him about where cash handling stands in retail today, how its perception is affected by COVID-19, and what steps businesses can take to ensure confidence and comfort when it comes to handling the critical payment form that is paper money.
Brandon Rael on the New World of Cash Handling
How do you view the importance of cash in retail operations, today and moving forward?
While cash may no longer be king in retail operations, it remains a viable form of currency, especially in the United States. Internationally, digital contactless payments are on the rise, with paper currency acceptance diminishing by year. The key is that the U.S. customer has a choice between using cash, debit/credit cards, and Google/Apple contactless payment options.
What are some arguments in favor of cash remaining a mainstay for retail businesses as new technologies and contactless payment methods emerge?
There are segments of the U.S. population that are credit-worthy and only could use cash for payments. Some states also view eliminating cash payments as discrimination, even though no federal statutes are mandating that businesses have to accept cash.
What are the impacts of the pandemic on cash handling and management in retail, from what you've seen?
If anything, COVID-19 has served as a great acceleration for digital commerce and contactless payment innovations. Contactless payment options are quickly becoming ubiquitous, from mom-and-pop stores to national chains. While cash is still widely accepted, there is a degree of apprehension and anxiety in handling cash during the pandemic.
What are some steps that retail organizations can take to bolster comfort and confidence for consumers when it comes to using cash?
Just as retailers have adjusted their in-store operating models around safety, sanitation, and in alignment with the CDC recommendations, cash payments are yet another consideration. Many retailers and grocers have set up separate terminals for cash payments, with the cashier wearing gloves.
It's not just customers that want to feel safe handling cash, but also employees on the front and back ends. Are you seeing (or recommending) any changes when it comes to safe & hygienic cash handling, management, or transportation from an operational standpoint?
Retailers have been working diligently to keep their frontline workers safe. By closely following the CDC guidelines, retailers and grocers set up checkout lanes with proper social distancing, plexiglass, and providing the necessary PPE to keep the store associates safe.
Can you think of technologies or innovations that are helping make cash more viable and resilient, as opposed to replacing it, in the retail sector?
The self-service checkout model may be a viable alternative that keeps the customer and store associates safe. Another alternative is offering the consumers a way to deposit their cash into self-service terminals in exchange for debit cards that could be used during the checkout process.
Above and beyond the physical aspects (cleanliness and hygiene), what do you see as critical considerations for cash safety in the retail space, and what is the value of working with partners who understand and follow best practices?
Cash payments aren't going to disappear, and there is still a percentage of U.S. customers that will still be using it. Retailers and grocers have always accepted cash payments, and aside from the cleanliness and hygiene considerations during the age of COVID-19, the dominating issue was dealing with counterfeit currency. Companies can certainly leverage third-party solution providers to help ensure the safe use of cash.
Coming Together for a Clean and Safe Cash Future
As Brandon stated, cash payments aren't going to disappear. But for the foreseeable future, cleanliness should be a heightened priority for any business that handles cash.
Everyone can play a role in helping employees and customers feel confident and comfortable with their transactions by taking the proper precautions whenever cash is handled, and by always offering the right to choose between payment options.
Learn more about the many dimensions of cash safety and how GardaWorld can help.