Gen Z goes cashless, but not all are ready to let go

Would you leave home without your wallet? Three out of four Gen Zs mainly use their phones to pay… but there are two who prefer the good old cash

  • Data shows 77% of 18-24 year olds would leave their wallet at home and pay over the phone
  • Contactless payments in general increased by 36% between 2020 and 2021
  • But 5 million UK adults say they still rely on cash on a daily basis
  • We spoke to two teenagers who are bucking the trend and preferring notes and coins

According to a new study, more than three-quarters of Gen Z are now leaving home without their wallet, opting instead to pay contactless on their phone.

Recent figures from card provider Marqeta show that 77% of 18-24 year olds feel confident leaving their wallet at home, choosing to rely on their phone as their primary means of payment.

They are not alone, as Britons are increasingly using contactless payments, whether on a physical card or linked to their mobile device.

Changes: The use of contactless payment methods has increased significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic, while the number of people relying on cash has decreased in the UK

Card spending data from UK Finance shows that a total of 13.1 billion contactless payments were made in 2021, the equivalent of 415 transactions per second.

This is an increase of 36% from 2020 and 52% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

At the same time, the number of people going cashless has increased significantly in 2020, helped by concerns about Covid transmission.

According to the Bank of England, the transactional use of cash has fallen from over 50% of payments in 2010 to just 17% of all payments in 2020.

But the trend is not for everyone. More than 5 million adults in the UK still rely on cash in their daily lives, and it remains the preferred method of payment for 21% of the population – down slightly from 23% before the pandemic.

However, it is increasingly difficult to access cash due to fewer branches of banks and building societies on high streets.

Ten years ago there were over 13,000 branches in the UK, last year the figure was just 8,800 according to the Office of National Statistics.

Collection?  Banknotes and coins accounted for just 17% of transactions in 2020, according to the Bank of England

Collection? Banknotes and coins accounted for just 17% of transactions in 2020, according to the Bank of England

This is Money spoke to two teenagers who, despite this, prefer to keep their money where they can see it.

Katy, 19, works part-time in a pub and in sports hospitality while studying for her A-levels. She uses cash as her primary means of payment, opting to keep a bank account with a small amount of money on deposit at all times for emergencies or as a last resort to pay by card.

Being paid mostly in cash, she says she finds it easier to manage her money knowing what she has “on hand”. Anything left over at the end of the month, she puts into a separate savings account.

Living in Newcastle with her parents, Katy doesn’t pay rent and told This is Money she’s unlikely to start relying on a debit card anytime soon, but might consider it when or if she finds a job that pays by direct debit.

Only 17% of UK transactions were made in cash in 2020, down from 50% in 2010

Only 17% of UK transactions were made in cash in 2020, down from 50% in 2010

The only problem she has had with cash payments is when she is at the supermarket. The rise of card-only self-checkouts means it’s harder to pay for items using notes and coins.

Similarly, 19-year-old Camryn, also based in Newcastle, relies on cash for the majority of his transactions. Citing this as a personal preference, he says he finds it easier to budget and manage his money this way.

His employer pays his monthly salary into his account, where he says he keeps enough money to pay his bills and make online purchases if necessary.

He withdraws money from his bank account as he needs it, storing it in his wallet or a jar at home rather than using a card to pay.

What about those who do not have access to credit cards?

Katy and Camryn have access to a bank account, but others don’t.

Using cash is vital for the 1.2 million people in the UK who have limited access to banking services and can be an essential budget tool, especially for the estimated 3.8 million people in financial difficulty.

Access to financial services is a recurring problem in the UK. People without a permanent address find it difficult to access banking services, and this group includes the homeless and refugees.

In response to the need, HSBC partnered with the charity Shelter in 2019 to launch its “no fixed address” accounts, of which it has opened 2,800 so far.

It also runs a separate program for refugees under which it has opened 3,000 since its launch in March this year.

Natwest told This is Money that the bank is working to accommodate people without a permanent address to open a basic account or, in some cases, work with them to get the essential documents they need to start an application.


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