1st April 2017 by Jason Vincent
Copenhagen – Clean, Green and Cashless!
When jumping off the surprisingly practical Norwegian plane (it had WiFi) at Copenhagen for the first time over the weekend, I quickly realised that despite being well equipped with my Revolut card – which for anyone wondering is a digital-only financial company brilliantly providing close to interbank exchange rates on almost every currency – I hadn’t taken out any cash.
After the many frustrating recent experiences in Japan, Kuwait, a number of European cities and even New York where ending up cashless meant an endless search for an ATM in order to buy a metro ticket, or perhaps pay for the lunch you’ve already had, I had an initial panic, but thought I’d wait and see if I really needed it before jumping for a cash point.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that I could buy a train ticket without cash. What I wasn’t expecting was just how cashless the Danish society had become (unbeknownst to me over in London, still struggling to pay for a sandwich from time to time).
Throughout my weekend, I experienced something quite unique – for the first time *ever* I was turned down from paying with cash in numerous places! In fact I frequently came across signs in the smallest bakeries and coffee shops saying “CARD ONLY”. This culminated on a walking tour where our volunteer tour guide had his own iZettle to take tips. After years of working with clients debating the pros and cons of cashless – both in society as a whole, but more often than not in vending and automated retail applications – I finally felt as though I’d found my place in the world.
I later discovered that Copenhagen is actively working towards becoming a cashless capital, and this genuinely amazed me. Here we are in the UK spending hundreds of millions introducing a new ‘sophisticated’ pound coin, forcing industries like vending and parking operators to re-program and often upgrade their equipment at extortionate costs, when real sophistication would be abolishing coins and cash altogether! It’s a bit like perfecting the art of lighting a fire with lint, whilst you have a matchbox in your back pocket.
With innovations such as contactless (and card payments in general), mobile payments, digital currencies such as Bitcoin, card acceptance hardware devices like the iZettle, what tangible benefit does cash actually provide to society and commerce in general? Whilst Bitcoin get’s criminalised in the media with sensationalist articles about how it facilitates the funding of illicit activities, the indisputable reality is that cash serves virtually no modern day purpose other than to support these activities itself. If you eliminate cash, you instantly introduce major challenges for anyone attempting to stay under the radar – whether it be the sale of drugs, tax evasion or any other activity we spend billions trying to suppress and ultimate eradicate.
It’s impressive how forward thinking Denmark seems to be pursuing the goal of a cashless economy. I subsequently came across an interview with a cashless evangelist Geronimo Emili1 where he says:
“Denmark and the Nordics are leading the way. Last time I visited Copenhagen, I was impressed when I saw a homeless man pay with his plastic card in a 7-Eleven. To me, that was a clear sign of financial inclusion, but unfortunately, Italy, along with other European countries, is still lagging behind.”
And this is brilliant. And like him I share the sentiment regarding the rest of Europe – and even worse – the rest of the world. Without going into a rant about Bitcoin and digital currencies in general, I do feel that this is where these will ultimately prevail by drastically facilitating financial inclusion.
Cashless aside, Copenhagen struck me for a number of other reasons, arguably more important ones! Their focus on quality of life and enforcing a work/life balance stands out, and highlights how even a large city can strive to achieve this balance… and how can you argue when Denmark is consistently rated number one for happiness!
Our tour guide (who had only moved from abroad a few years ago) enthusiastically commented on how the cycle infrastructure was one of the best things about the capital. In his words, it meant that even on the darkest, most depressing days, everyone starts and ends their working day with some exercise, and it’s hard to argue with the impact this can have on your overall positivity and morale!
If you’re not convinced to move yet, jump on a flight and go and experience it for yourself! I know I’ll definitely be going back there again soon.