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Keeping Cash: Assessing the Arguments about Cash and Crime

  • Author(s): Dalinghaus, Ursula
  • et al.
Abstract

Over the last decade there has been a revolution in payment technologies. Digitization of bank accounts, new digital payment applications, and an array of new kinds of financial products and services have opened up a wide range of choices for storing, saving, sending, and receiving money. Digital finance has become an important tool in efforts to facilitate formalfinancial inclusion across the globe.

And yet, cash has also remained an essential tool for people’s financial practices and lives alongside these new payment forms. Evidence from both developing and developed payment markets shows that while digital payments may have increased exponentially, the demand for physical banknotes and coins has kept up with the pace of digital finance. Physical currency or physical accounting devices are ancient and crosscultural technologies, in continuous use since at least 1600 B.C. Aside from risks and benefits, they are wedded to an incredibly durable set of behaviors and social practices.

People use diverse payment methods (from cash, to cards, to payment applications and other alternatives) together. However, the ability to move between diverse payment forms, especially cash, has also featured prominently in criminal activities, including money laundering, tax evasion, and terrorist financing. This has led government authorities, law enforcement, and other entities to target cash in particular as the supposed core method – and problem – in such activities. The European Commission proposes to institute a cash transaction limit across the EU, claiming that it will prevent money laundering, terrorism, and crime. This follows the decision by the European Central Bank to end issuance of the 500 euro note beginning in 2018.

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