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The Shift to a Cashless Society is Snowballing

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The Shift to a Cashless Society is Snowballing

Image courtesy of: Raconteur

The Shift to a Cashless Society is Snowballing

Love it or hate it, cash is playing an increasingly less important role in society.

In some ways this is great news for consumers. The rise of mobile and electronic payments means faster, convenient, and more efficient purchases in most instances. New technologies are being built and improved to facilitate these transactions, and improving security is also a priority for many payment providers.

However, there is also a darker side in the shift to a cashless society. Governments and central banks have a different rationale behind the elimination of cash transactions, and as a result, the so-called “war on cash” is on.

On the Path to a Cashless Society

The Federal Reserve estimates that there will be $616.9 billion in cashless transactions in 2016. That’s up from around $60 billion in 2010.

Despite the magnitude of this overall shift, what is happening from country to country varies quite considerably. Consider the contradicting evidence between Sweden and Germany.

In Sweden, about 59% of all consumer transactions are cashless, and hard currency makes up just 2% of the economy. Yet, across the Baltic Sea, Germans are far bigger proponents of modern cash. This should not be too surprising, considering that the German words for “debt” and “guilt” are the exact same.

Within Germany, only 33% of consumer transactions are cashless, and there are only 0.06 credit cards in existence per person.

The Dark Side of Cashless

The shift to a cashless society is even gaining momentum in Germany, but it is not because of the willing adoption from the general public. According to Handelsblatt, a leading German business newspaper, a proposal to eliminate the €500 note while capping all cash transactions at €5,000 was made in February by the junior partner of the coalition government.

Governments have been increasingly pushing for a cashless society. Ostensibly, by having a paper trail for all transactions, such a move would decrease crime, money laundering, and tax evasion. France’s finance minister recently stated that he would “fight against the use of cash and anonymity in the French economy” in order to prevent terrorism and other threats. Meanwhile, former Secretary of the Treasury and economist Larry Summers has called for scrapping the U.S. $100 bill – the most widely used currency note in the world.

“Smoother” Aggregate Demand?

It’s not simply an argument of the above government rationale versus that of privacy and anonymity. Perhaps the least talked-about implication of a cashless society is the way that it could potentially empower central banking to have more ammunition in “smoothing” out the way people save and spend money.

By eliminating the prospect of cash savings, monetary policy options like negative interest rates would be much more effective if implemented. All money would presumably be stored under the same banking system umbrella, and even the most prudent savers could be taxed with negative rates to encourage consumer spending.

While there are certainly benefits to using digital payments, our view is that going digital should be an individual consumer choice that can be based on personal benefits and drawbacks. People should have the voluntary choice of going plastic or using apps for payment, but they shouldn’t be pushed into either option unwillingly.

Forced banishment of cash is a completely different thing, and we should be increasingly wary and suspicious of the real rationale behind such a scheme.

All of the World's Money and Markets in One Visualization

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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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The World’s Most Valuable Bank Brands

These charts visualize the most valuable bank brands around the world, while also showing the rise of China’s financial services sector over time.

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Visualizing The World’s Most Valuable Bank Brands

When most people think about brands, they often picture iconic consumer marks like Coca-Cola or Apple.

But in the realm of financial services, the importance of having a strong consumer brand is also rapidly growing. After all, with hundreds of new fintech entrants positioning themselves to be the “banks” of the future, it seems that brand awareness may be one of the major competitive advantages that incumbent banks can use to protect themselves.

Which financial institutions have the strongest brands, and which brands are the most valuable?

Valuable Bank Brands in 2019

Today’s chart looks at the world’s most valuable bank brands, according to a recent report from Brand Finance.

It should be noted that brand value in this context is a measure of the “value of the trade mark and associated marketing IP within the branded business”. In other words, it’s measuring the value of intangible marketing assets, and not the overall worth of a business itself.

Here are the top bank brands by value in 2019:

Top bank brands by value

For the third year in a row, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) takes the top spot, with a brand value of $79.8 billion.

Wells Fargo is the top U.S. bank by brand value, coming in 5th place – however, the bank actually fell two spots from last year’s ranking while simultaneously losing 9% of its brand value. This is not surprising in light of the recent publicity challenges faced by the bank.

The Ascent of Chinese Banks

It’s also interesting to note that Chinese banks have taken all four of the top spots on the list, with ICBC, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, and Bank of China having a combined brand value of over $250 billion.

Here’s a look at the ascent of Chinese banks over time:

Ascent of China Banks

In contrast, in the entire span of 2009-2014, there were zero Chinese banks that cracked the top five.

The Strongest Bank Brands

Finally, here is a look at the strongest bank brands.

It’s worth noting that in contrast to value, these are banks that have executed on their branding, marketing, and sales strategies to have brands that ultimately create a competitive advantage for their business.

Strongest bank brands

Brand Finance measures brand strength by looking at a balanced scorecard of metrics evaluating marketing investment, stakeholder equity, and business performance.

For more insights, don’t forget to check out Brand Finance’s report.

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