In Israel the transition to going cashless has just started to take shape and there’s still a long road ahead. According to ‘Bank of Israel’, the annual cash volume for 2017 was 73 Billion Israeli New Shekels. On the other hand, Europe is leading the world with cashless transactions and because I work for a top European acquiring bank, I had no doubt that when my family and I booked a ticket to see Messi at ‘Camp Nou,’ I would be touching down in Barcelona without a cent to my name.
Being one of the 32 million tourists per year in Barcelona, I was comfortable about landing cashless at the airport and confident about finding our way to the city center. The bus station from the airport to ‘Placa de Catalunya’ has buses leaving every 10 minutes and although paying cash on the bus was an option, we tried to pay by card through the machine, but our American issued card was declined. Luckily, my father had some change and we ended up paying cash which was not the best way to start this cashless experience.
Even though our cashless journey had a disappointing start I found out that there are many ways to pay cashless in the Catalan capital, and it doesn’t all have to be by card. Phones and e-wallets are often used, as well as payment-enabled jewelry (rings and bracelets), such as the Visa and NBG collaboration with Folli Follie. Even the Barcelona founded art, design and music festival, Sónar, went cashless with the SonarCashless wristband.
In bustling cities like Barcelona, speed is essential. Metro and Subway tickets are sold by cash or card through machines, including the busiest stations, making the experience time and cost efficient for the 500 million annually transported passengers. Even my taxi driver preferred getting payed by card and pulled out his wireless credit card machine, making me feel like I’m in the future since this is not common in Israel.
Small payments, for example food, water, or gift shop purchases was the coolest experience for me. It was the first time I used my card’s ‘contactless Tap to Pay’ feature. Since contactless payments do not require a signature or a PIN, I was able to make payments up to 20 euros. Contactless payment transactions have an amount limitation depending on the country and issuing bank of the card.
Another thing to consider about the cashless experience is exchange rates. Since my issuing bank is outside the EU, I nearly ended up paying a lot more because of the exchange rate on the international transactions but, my fiancé discovered that we can save a lot of money by paying all the transactions in USD.
Back in 1661, Sweden was the first European country to introduce paper money, while today the Scandinavian country has almost made the full transition to becoming cashless and is on its way to becoming the first nation to go completely cash-free. Naturally, this should have a positive effect on financial crime rates (tax evasion, money laundering, counterfeiting and corruption). However, ditching cash raises concerns that not everyone is ready for a digital or cashless economy, for example, card fraud causes ten times more damage than counterfeit notes according to Deutsche Bank economist, Heike Mai.
In an increasingly cashless world, Barcelona is amazing and beautiful, the people are nice, and the city is filled with art and culture. Besides the cold weather that I am not used to and some convenient stores that had a minimum amount for swiping cards, my cashless experience was a great success. It’s clear, that as we start to understand that traveling cashless is truly efficient and beneficial and the industry continues to produce tools preventing illegal activities like Fraud and money laundering, paper money will one day be a vague memory of the past.
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