With Americans spending four out of every five dollars without cash, the United States approaches a tipping point toward a "cashless society." That finding comes from a MasterCard Advisors report that reviews how 33 of the world's major economic regions have transitioned from cash-based to cashless economies.
Researchers discovered that consumers in Belgium, France and Canada rely on cash less than anyone else in the world. Cashless transactions comprised more than 90 percent of all transactions in all three of those countries. Other "nearly cashless" economies include Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands. According to the MasterCard Advisors report, broad adoption of contactless credit cards and mobile payment technology spurred the latest wave of transition among each region's residents.
Along with Europay International and Visa, MasterCard helped develop and popularize the EMV smart card technology now used almost exclusively by merchants in Europe. (MasterCard would eventually merge with Europay in 2002.) At its outset, the "chip-and-PIN" version of the EMV platform enabled retailers to accept credit cards without live phone or Internet verification tools. The report cites broad merchant acceptance as a key factor that enables economies to transition away from cash.
However, cultural behavior still plays a major role in how economies adopt alternatives to cash. Despite their relative comfort with technology, consumers in Germany, Japan, Spain and Taiwan often rely on cash for daily purchases. China and the United Arab Emirates also trailed world leaders, but government promotion of cashless payments has significantly increased adoption rates over the past few years.
To compile their report, MasterCard Advisors researchers reviewed data on more than $63 trillion of transactions in 2011, representing the total consumer spend in each of the 33 economies studied. The report measured the share of each type of transaction conducted without cash, as well as the overall shift away from cash within each economy. Researchers also rated each economy on its readiness to quickly convert even more cash exchanges into cashless transactions.