Cash is dying out because of two forces. One is demand— younger consumers want payment systems that plug seamlessly into their digital lives. But equally important is that suppliers such as banks and tech firms (in developed markets) and telecoms companies (in emerging ones) are developing fast, easy-to-use payment technologies from which they can pull data and pocket fees. There is a high cost to running the infrastructure behind the cash economy—atms, vans carrying notes, tellers who accept coins. Most financial firms are keen to abandon it, or deter old-fashioned customers with hefty fees.
In the main the prospect of a cashless economy is excellent news. Cash is inefficient. In rich countries, minting, sorting, storing and distributing it is estimated to cost about 0.5% of GDP. But that does not begin to capture the gains. When payments dematerialise, people and shops are less vulnerable to theft. Governments can keep closer tabs on fraud or tax evasion. Digitalisation vastly expands the playground of small businesses and sole traders by enabling them to sell beyond their borders. It also creates a credit history, helping consumers borrow.