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Our huge vulnerability

20 Mar 2024

How much cash do you carry?

In today's modern world it could be argued that cash is more of an inconvenience than a convenience. Having to carry around a wallet bulging with notes and having your pockets strained by the weight of coins that rattle around has already become just a memory for many of us.

Paying with plastic or a mobile app is just so much more quick and convenient for customer and retailer alike.

Who would even think of going back to cash?

Well perhaps all those folk who found themselves unable to buy their favourite fastfood at McDonalds last week for a start.

Apparently a failed system upgrade resulted in the Maccas ordering/payment terminals going offline is a number of countries around the world.

No Big Mac with a side of fries and a shake for you!

Oh the humanity!

A similar problem occured in the UK when, just a few days ago, customers without cash were left unable to pay for their groceries after a failure of some electronic payment systems.

Okay, this sort of thing doesn't happen very often but, when it does, it's a huge inconvenience for all concerned.

Standing at the supermarket checkout with a trolley full of already-bagged frozen food and discovering, when payment is requested, that you'll now have to rush to an ATM and withdraw cash before it all melts could be a disaster. Especially if, as was the case in the UK, all the nearby ATMs have been sucked dry of cash within a few short minutes anyway.

For quite some time I used to carry no cash at all and that was convenient.

Fortunately I live in a town without parking meters so I have no need of coins and "flashing the plastic" works in every shop I visit so why bother? This also means that when faced with the increasing number of solicitations from beggars in the street I can say, hand-on-heart, "sorry, I only have plastic".

More recently however, I have stuffed a twenty or three in the deeper recesses of my wallet, just in case.

This is because although I acknowledge the general reliability of our electronic payment networks, I also realise that they remain incredibly vulnerable to all manner of potential weaknesses.

It's not just the software that processes the payments but also the comms networks and even the power grid that can fail and disable your ability to pay -- unless you have some cash.

Even from a civil emergency and national security perspective it seems pretty risky to place your ability to buy food and essentials on a system that has so many potential points of failure.

I suspect that in case of an significant military conflict (WW3 anyone?) then the EMP from nuclear weapons would quickly disable a nation's ability to conduct retail transactions -- resulting in significant tracts of the population running out of food and essentials in a way that a conventional siege could never produce in such a short timeframe.

On the downside, carrying cash does slightly elevate your risk of loss due to robbery but with PayWave and other no-authentication-required electronic systems now commonplace, having your debit card stolen can still cost you quite a bit of dosh before you manage to report the fact.

I guess that with the current rate of inflation and the ever-more-likely chance that WW3 is just around the corner, it's about time I stuffed another twenty in my wallet -- just in case.

Carpe Diem folks!

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