TORONTO – With countries like Sweden and South Korea announcing bold plans to go completely cashless over the next five years, Canadians have to wonder: when will Canada do the same?
Not anytime soon, according to the experts who spoke at a panel entitled, “Has Canada gone Cashless? Straight Talk from the Industry: What’s Next for Mobile Commerce and Payments?” during The Canadian Institute’s 12th annual Payments Compliance in Canada forum on Mar. 1. While the financial services experts, who represented PayPal Canada, RBC, and Interac, believe the technological foundation for a cashless society in Canada exists, other aspects such as regulation lag behind.
“Technology has advanced but a lot of people feel like regulation has lagged behind,” said Olga Ziman Sabbagh, senior legal counsel at RBC. “A lot of developments are happening, but is it fast enough, and what is fast enough? Tomorrow we could see an entirely new app that changes what we know today. Regulators almost need to step away and see what gaps they need to fill so that they can create an equal playing field for all the players.”
Despite government regulation lagging behind, the panelists agreed that cash is on a downswing. Mark Kummerer, senior product manager at Interac, indicated that Interac Flash is seeing 100 per cent growth rate year over year, with over one million transactions completed per day. Likewise, Jason Young, head of legal and government relations at PayPal Canada, introduced a PayPal study from five years ago that indicated 25 per cent of respondents hadn’t used cash in the past week. That survey was updated in 2015 and that number jumped to 65 per cent. “Canadians are generally quite comfortable with non-cash methods of payments,” said Young.
But if Canadians are generally quite comfortable with a cashless society, are government regulations the only part holding us back? In Canada and the U.S., the panel agrees that there is still a significant “un-banked” portion of the population to think about. These are the youths growing up who rely on cash provided to them by their parents, the oldest generation that has yet to adopt these technologies, or individuals who do not trust bank security in a day and age where data breaches are the norm.
If the government moves to a cashless system, what happens to those people? Does the government start providing government issued prepaid cards so that people could still participate in the economy? That adds another host of issues that begin with ensuring that every person is equipped with the technology necessary for this change to happen.
For example, what about the person playing music at the entrance of the subway? If you want to toss a toonie their way, what would you do in a cashless society? According to Young, providing that person with a QR code could allow a passerby to scan the code and toss a toonie their way over their phone.
But it ultimately all comes back to government regulation. If the government is still trying to catch up to mobile payments, what happens as new types of technology pop up? Already in 2017 Amazon is testing invisible payments with its Amazon Go storefront, and virtual reality and augmented reality advancements will increasingly change how we shop.
“Each one of these technological milestones has infrastructure introduced,” said Jordan Cohen, chief commercial officer of Dream Payments.
Those Canadian regulators are still catching up with the infrastructure set in place with mobile payments. And with new technology always on the way that regulators have to pay attention to, the amount of catch-up that needs to be done will only increase.