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Cashing out. Will 100% digital enablement make the cut?

So things had been going well. The Project had been “live” for nearly eight weeks and I was revelling in the new redesigned and highly efficient business operations. As ever there had been a number of factors influencing this, technology change was one element (more people just seemed to be doing it), cost reduction was another. It appeared that banks were in partnership with technology providers to offer a lower entry cost with widespread adoption. This digital stuff was everywhere. Furthermore, it just seemed that it was an idea whose time had come. We ran a couple of pilots and rolled out the process to a number of different countries. The US had been surprisingly easy and even the French proved compliant. In truth I was keen to try this simply because I felt we could. The project was simple – go completely cashless. No coins, cheques or paper notes whatsoever.

During the first few days I was a bit nervous. Like any change process, to begin with there was a little hoarding of cash on a “just in case” basis, a sort of parallel running. There was a furtive collecting of stray coins in the car, a rummage in the bottom of the computer bag for those coins that set off security alarms at airports and the cash cupboard in the hallway at home was emptied. But the project went well initially. I overcame resistance from the kids and committed to transfer funds on-line. There was a special negotiation with the dry cleaner that had a minimum charge for cards, 10% above the usual charge for cleaning a suit. The only major crises had been caused by an emergency use of a public car park which took neither cards nor allowed payment by phone. I nearly drove out but was rescued by a very kind old lady and I repaid her afterwards with a bunch of flowers left on the windscreen of her car (which might have taken some explaining on her part). The only other business to suffer was the coffee stand on the railway station platform. His, “no cash, no coffee” policy led to no trade from me.

As the project progressed I managed very well. I went completely cashless in Claremont, dollar deficient in Washington, penniless in Paris, frugal in Frankfurt and lived without the readies in Reading. For an impressive eight weeks I didn’t use any cash or notes. Indeed one of my colleagues tried to convince me that touching cash and notes was itself a major contribution to the spread of disease and that being cashless was a very good thing. It really was filthy money apparently.

My behaviour had changed very little. The only really serious problem I noticed, apart from the coffee, and it wasn’t really that serious, was failing to buy a programme and something to eat at the football match. And then I stumbled into the barber’s without thinking and got caught out. There was no choice. “We cut only for cash” he said. And so the project fizzled out at bit.

At the post project review last weekend I had two conclusions. First of all I felt that succeeding for eight weeks without paper or cash, going digital as it were, was pretty impressive. I may need to change my barber, but hey, that’s the price of progress. It was still a pretty good result and I am determined to continue. The second conclusion was that you never know what you can do until you try.

And maybe we should try a bit harder to go paperless in the B2B world? All my utility suppliers now want to charge for paper statements and invoices, the credit card companies are pushing everything online, the bank prefers not to send statements and the cost of postage is increasing as the service declines. I was then reminded why we haven’t all gone digital yet, I think we have limited our B2B aspirations by hearsay and custom. A couple of recent studies show we have only digitised half the B2B world so maybe a 100% project could be worth a go now. You may never know until you try.

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