Transitioning to only accepting digital payments is a form of classism

Fair warning: It’s Friday night and I have been thinking a lot this evening. While I follow this train of thought in my head, I question my ability to adequately convey the thoughts.

Prior to COVID, the western world was already deeply entrenched in digital payment systems. Credit cards, debit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Crypto Currency, these are all forms of digital payments that have been driving the economy for several years now. This transition to digital payment mediums was only exacerbated by the pandemic when many businesses transitioned away from accepting cash because they wanted to limit their employees handling cash.

Cash carries germs. Germs could get employees sick. COVID is bad. COVID comes from germs. Therefore cash is the enemy. At least around here it has been.

I can’t tell you the number of businesses I’ve been to since March in which digital forms of payments are the only payments they accept.

Eventually, even after we’re all vaccinated, digital payments are still going to be the norm. We know this because this was already a transition happening prior to COVID.

This is classism.

We’ve already played the ageism card and told seniors and the elderly they need to get with the times and learn our technology. Now we’re playing the classism card and telling people that if they cannot pay for something digitally, they cannot pay for it at all.

We are (as a society) developing a system for people of financial stability and resource to be able to easily purchase their goods and services with digital means, ignoring the fact that technology is a luxury. Technology is not something that everyone has. Despite what people say, it’s not even something the majority of people have. I know that we like to pretend everyone has a cell phone and everyone has a bank account, but factually, that’s not the case.

What will homeless people do when they’re no longer able to take their cash to purchase… well… anything? What are they going to do? When they can’t even buy a freaking banana, or a hamburger or whatever it is they might need and would have otherwise in the past used cash to pay for? They’ve had a hard enough time finding businesses that accept cash during the pandemic. So what happens when we transition to a fully digital payment system for good?

Banks treat homeless people as liabilities and very few banks actually provide (very few) homeless people with a bank account (I’ve only ever seen one bank here in Canada that seeks to give homeless people a bank acccount). If they don’t even have a bank card they’re definitely not going to have the newest iPhone to use Apple Pay. Are Apple or Samsung going to step up and provide technology for the homeless and a system for a reloadable balance?

Please don’t say ‘Well they shouldn’t be homeless anymore’. That is a form of classism. You and I have no idea why, or how, someone wound up homeless and we don’t deserve the right to judge them. We can help them if they would like help, yes. Judge them? Hell no.

What about people who live in abject poverty? Because, while people don’t always like to admit it, there millions of Canadians, and tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions) of Americans who don’t just live below the federally or locally determined poverty line, but actually live in abject poverty. Their roofs are caving in, their meals are few and far between, their resources are almost non existent. These people don’t necessarily have bank accounts because, quite frankly, they don’t have money to put in a bank account. Even if they do have a bank account, though, if they don’t have any money in the bank account, they may not be so inclined to take what little money they do manage to get from a family member, friend, neighbour, side hustle or whatever source they’re getting it from, to put in a bank account in order to pay for milk and bread.

Banking fees are no joke. If someone’s already dealing with an extreme budget, or lack thereof, forcing banking fees upon them is only furthering the burden they’re already bearing.

Please don’t say ‘well they shouldn’t live in poverty, then.’ If it were truly that simple, then no one would be living in poverty.

I’ve really only begun scraping the surface of what issues come from not having, or using cash any longer. I don’t know who else has noticed but a lot of charities are only accepting digital payments these days (unrelated to COVID). That means for every charitable donation made, banking fees will be incurred. There are A LOT of organizations who relied heavily on an extra dollar here or an extra five dollars there from a lot of people. It might not seem like much if you’re well off, but what would normally be providing an extra $5 bill now has the possibility to incur a $1.25 (or more) banking fee, depending on where someone banks. That’s enough to turn people away.

This future that we’re building around cards and smart phones, wireless transfers and so on… it’s a deeply flawed system being built for the financially stable, the resource rich and well off people of this world.

Everyone else? I guess they’re out of luck.