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The Global War on Cash

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The Global War on Cash

The Global War on Cash

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

There is a global push by lawmakers to eliminate the use of physical cash around the world. This movement is often referred to as “The War on Cash”, and there are three major players involved:

1. The Initiators
Who?
Governments, central banks.
Why?
The elimination of cash will make it easier to track all types of transactions – including those made by criminals.

2. The Enemy
Who?
Criminals, terrorists
Why?
Large denominations of bank notes make illegal transactions easier to perform, and increase anonymity.

3. The Crossfire
Who?
Citizens
Why?
The coercive elimination of physical cash will have potential repercussions on the economy and social liberties.

Is Cash Still King?

Cash has always been king – but starting in the late 1990s, the convenience of new technologies have helped make non-cash transactions to become more viable:

  • Online banking
  • Smartphones
  • Payment technologies
  • Encryption

By 2015, there were 426 billion cashless transactions worldwide – a 50% increase from five years before.

Year# of cashless transactions
2010285.2 billion
2015426.3 billion

And today, there are multiple ways to pay digitally, including:

  • Online banking (Visa, Mastercard, Interac)
  • Smartphones (Apple Pay)
  • Intermediaries ( Paypal , Square)
  • Cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin)

The First Shots Fired

The success of these new technologies have prompted lawmakers to posit that all transactions should now be digital.

Here is their case for a cashless society:

Removing high denominations of bills from circulation makes it harder for terrorists, drug dealers, money launderers, and tax evaders.

  • $1 million in $100 bills weighs only one kilogram (2.2 lbs).
  • Criminals move $2 trillion per year around the world each year.
  • The U.S. $100 bill is the most popular note in the world, with 10 billion of them in circulation.

This also gives regulators more control over the economy.

  • More traceable money means higher tax revenues.
  • It means there is a third-party for all transactions.
  • Central banks can dictate interest rates that encourage (or discourage) spending to try to manage inflation. This includes ZIRP or NIRP policies.

Cashless transactions are faster and more efficient.

  • Banks would incur less costs by not having to handle cash.
  • It also makes compliance and reporting easier.
  • The “burden” of cash can be up to 1.5% of GDP, according to some experts.

But for this to be possible, they say that cash – especially large denomination bills – must be eliminated. After all, cash is still used for about 85% of all transactions worldwide.

A Declaration of War

Governments and central banks have moved swiftly in dozens of countries to start eliminating cash.

Some key examples of this? Australia, Singapore, Venezuela, the U.S., and the European Central Bank have all eliminated (or have proposed to eliminate) high denomination notes. Other countries like France, Sweden and Greece have targeted adding restrictions on the size of cash transactions, reducing the amount of ATMs in the countryside, or limiting the amount of cash that can be held outside of the banking system. Finally, some countries have taken things a full step further – South Korea aims to eliminate paper currency in its entirety by 2020.

But right now, the “War on Cash” can’t be mentioned without invoking images of day-long lineups in India. In November 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi demonetized 500 and 1000 rupee notes, eliminating 86% of the country’s notes overnight. While Indians could theoretically exchange 500 and 1,000 rupee notes for higher denominations, it was only up to a limit of 4,000 rupees per person. Sums above that had to be routed through a bank account in a country where only 50% of Indians have such access.

The Hindu has reported that there have now been 112 reported deaths associated with the Indian demonetization. Some people have committed suicide, but most deaths come from elderly people waiting in bank queues for hours or days to exchange money.

Caught in the Crossfire

The shots fired by governments to fight its war on cash may have several unintended casualties:

1. Privacy

  • Cashless transactions would always include some intermediary or third-party.
  • Increased government access to personal transactions and records.
  • Certain types of transactions (gambling, etc.) could be barred or frozen by governments.
  • Decentralized cryptocurrency could be an alternative for such transactions

2. Savings

  • Savers could no longer have the individual freedom to store wealth “outside” of the system.
  • Eliminating cash makes negative interest rates (NIRP) a feasible option for policymakers.
  • A cashless society also means all savers would be “on the hook” for bank bail-in scenarios.
  • Savers would have limited abilities to react to extreme monetary events like deflation or inflation.

3. Human Rights

  • Rapid demonetization has violated people’s rights to life and food.
  • In India, removing the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes has caused multiple human tragedies, including patients being denied treatment and people not being able to afford food.
  • Demonetization also hurts people and small businesses that make their livelihoods in the informal sectors of the economy.

4. Cybersecurity

  • With all wealth stored digitally, the potential risk and impact of cybercrime increases.
  • Hacking or identity theft could destroy people’s entire life savings.
  • The cost of online data breaches is already expected to reach $2.1 trillion by 2019, according to Juniper Research.

As the War on Cash accelerates, many shots will be fired. The question is: who will take the majority of the damage?

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Decentralized Finance: An Emerging Alternative to the Global Financial System

What is decentralized finance? Learn how technology is changing the rules of the game, creating the potential for a new financial system to emerge.

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Decentralized Finance: An Emerging Alternative

The global financial system has created massive wealth, but its centralized nature means the spoils have gone to the people who are best connected to the financial centers of the world.

As global inequality continues to rise, how can wealth building tools become more accessible to the rest of the global population?

Luckily, technological developments and their rapid adoption make this the right time for a new decentralized financial system to emerge:

  • The Internet: 3.9 billion users by the end of 2018
  • The proliferation of smartphones: Two-thirds of the unbanked have mobile phones
  • Digital banking: over 2 billion users by end of 2018
  • Bitcoin and Blockchain: the emergence of new public blockchains

Today’s infographic comes to us from investment app Abra, and it highlights how public blockchains could help to enable a decentralized finance system.

What is Decentralized Finance?

Decentralized finance describes a new decentralized financial system that is built on public blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum. After all, Bitcoin and Ethereum aren’t just digital currencies — they’re foundational open source networks that could be used to change how the global economy works.

There are six primary features that differentiate public blockchains from the private networks used by governments and traditional financial institutions:

  • Permissionless: Anyone in the world can connect to the network
  • Decentralized: Records are kept simultaneously across thousands of computers
  • Trustless: A central party isn’t required to ensure transactions are valid
  • Transparent: All transactions are publicly auditable
  • Censorship Resistant: A central party cannot invalidate user transactions
  • Programmable: Developers can program business logic into low-cost financial services

In such a financial system, users will have access to apps that use public blockchains to participate in new open global markets – but how would this shape the global financial system for the better?

The Potential Impact of Decentralized Finance

Here are five ways that decentralized finance will have an impact on the world:

1. Wider Global Access to Financial Services

With decentralized finance, anyone with an internet connection and a smartphone could access financial services. There are a variety of barriers that prevent access in the current system:

  • Status: Lack of citizenship, documentation, credentials, etc.
  • Wealth: High entry-level funds required to access financial services
  • Location: Vast distance from functioning economies and financial service providers

In a decentralized financial system, a top trader at a financial firm would have the same level of access as a farmer in a remote region of India.

2. Affordable Cross-Border Payments

Decentralized finance removes costly intermediaries to make remittance services more affordable for the global population.

In the current system, it’s prohibitively expensive for people to send money across borders: the average global remittance fee is 7%. Through decentralized financial services, remittance fees could be below 3%.

3. Improved Privacy and Security

In decentralized finance, users have custody of their wealth and can transact securely without validation from a central party. Meanwhile, in the current system, custodial institutions put people’s wealth and information at risk if they fail to secure it.

4. Censorship-Resistant Transactions

In a decentralized financial system, transactions are immutable and blockchains can’t be shut off by central institutions like governments, central banks, or big corporations.

In places with poor governance and authoritarianism, users can divest to the decentralized financial system to protect their wealth. For example, Venezuelans are already adopting Bitcoin to protect their wealth from government manipulation and hyperinflation.

5. Simple Use

Plug and play apps will allow people to intuitively use decentralized financial services without the complexity of the centralized system.

With a decentralized system, a woman in the Philippines could receive a loan from the U.S., invest in a business in Colombia, and then pay off her debt and purchase a home – all through interoperable apps.

The Potential Blue Sky

Unless governments and central banks suddenly cease to exist, it’s difficult to imagine a world where decentralized finance completely replaces their centralized counterparts.

But what if they can co-exist?

Public blockchains can interact with the traditional financial system to create a new hybrid model:

  • Users could conduct economic activity on public blockchains and exchange their new wealth into the centralized system.
  • Users could hedge against systemic risk by diversifying their wealth holdings in both the central and decentralized system.

Like the internet with knowledge, decentralized finance could help democratize the financial system.

But will we allow it?

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The 7 Major Flaws of the Global Financial System

Since the invention of banking, the global financial system has increasingly become more centralized. Here are the big flaws it has, as a result.

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The 7 Major Flaws of the Global Financial System

Since the invention of banking, the global financial system has become increasingly centralized.

In the modern system, central banks now control everything from interest rates to the issuance of currency, while government regulators, corporations, and intergovernmental organizations wield unparalleled influence at the top of this crucial food chain.

There is no doubt that this centralization has led to the creation of massive amounts of wealth, especially to those properly connected to the financial system. However, the same centralization has also arguably contributed to many global challenges and risks we face today.

Flaws of the Global Financial System

Today’s infographic comes to us from investment app Abra, and it highlights the seven major flaws of the global financial system, ranging from the lack of basic access to financial services to growing inequality.

1. Billions of people globally remain unbanked
To participate in the global financial sector, whether it is to make a digital payment or manage one’s wealth, one must have access to a bank account. However, 1.7 billion adults worldwide remain unbanked, having zero access to an account with a financial institution or a mobile money provider.

2. Global financial literacy remains low
For people to successfully use financial services and markets, they must have some degree of financial literacy. According to a recent global survey, just 1-in-3 people show an understanding of basic financial concepts, with most of these people living in high income economies.

Without an understanding of key concepts in finance, it makes it difficult for the majority of the population to make the right decisions – and to build wealth.

3. High intermediary costs and slow transactions
Once a person has access to financial services, sending and storing money should be inexpensive and fast.

However, just the opposite is true. Around the globe, the average cost of a remittance is 7.01% in fees per transaction – and when using banks, that rises to 10.53%. Even worse, these transactions can take days at a time, which seems quite unnecessary in today’s digital era.

4. Low trust in financial institutions and governments
The financial sector is the least trusted business sector globally, with only a 57% level of trust according to Edelman. Meanwhile, trust in governments is even lower, with only 40% trusting the U.S. government, and the global country average sitting at 47%.

5. Rising global inequality
In a centralized system, financial markets tend to be dominated by those who are best connected to them.

These are people who have:

  • Access to many financial opportunities and asset classes
  • Capital to deploy
  • Informational advantages
  • Access to financial expertise

In fact, according to recent data on global wealth concentration, the top 1% own 47% of all household wealth, while the top 10% hold roughly 85%.

On the other end of the spectrum, the vast majority of people have little to no financial assets to even start building wealth. Not only are many people living paycheck to paycheck – but they also don’t have access to assets that can create wealth, like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or ETFs.

6. Currency manipulation and censorship
In a centralized system, countries have the power to manipulate and devalue fiat currencies, and this can have a devastating effect on markets and the lives of citizens.

In Venezuela, for example, the government has continually devalued its currency, creating runaway hyperinflation as a result. The last major currency manipulation in 2018 increased the price of a cup of coffee by over 772,400% in six months.

Further, centralized power also gives governments and financial institutions the ability to financially censor citizens, by taking actions such as freezing accounts, denying access to payment systems, removing funds from accounts, and denying the retrieval of funds during bank runs.

7. The build-up of systemic risk
Finally, centralization creates one final and important drawback.

With financial power concentrated with just a select few institutions, such as central banks and “too big too fail” companies, it means that one abject failure can decimate an entire system.

This happened in 2008 as U.S. subprime mortgages turned out to be an Achilles Heel for bank balance sheets, creating a ripple effect throughout the globe. Centralization means all eggs in one basket – and if that basket breaks it can possibly lead to the destruction of wealth on a large scale.

The Future of the Global Financial System?

The risks and drawbacks of centralization to the global financial system are well known, however there has never been much of a real alternative – until now.

With the proliferation of mobile phones and internet access, as well as the development of decentralization technologies like the blockchain, it may be possible to build an entirely new financial system.

But is the world ready?

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