The cashless society and consumer trust

External systems being in control of our destiny - a perennial human fear. And now it has your "cash."
4 May 2023

What happens next is crucial to building consumer trust in a cashless society.

In Part 1 of this article, we spoke to Martin Bradbury, Regional Director, Financial Services UK & Ireland at Dynatrace, a cloud provider that enables digital services for commercial clients (including providers of cashless transactions), about the drift towards the long-fabled cashless society in the UK.

We discussed where the UK sits in the rankings of nations on the cashless society journey – around ten years behind the early adopters, but still ahead of countries like the US – and whether there were in fact any convincing arguments that would make the shift to a cashless society particularly appealing (either for the UK or for any other nation).

While only around 15% of transactions in the UK of 2023 are made in cash, there emerged the idea that any political party that campaigned hard on the idea of speeding up the journey towards a cashless society would probably be on a hiding to nothing, as it would radically impact some of the poorest people in the country, without necessarily reaping any political benefits, irrespective of the technical usefulness of gradually transitioning to a cashless society.

That gradualness appears to be key to the process – at least in the UK.

While we had him in the chair, we asked Martin why that might be.

A matter of trust.


In Part 1, you mentioned the idea that there’s a lack of consumer trust in the idea of cashless society. Does that lack of trust seem fair, unfair, proportionate?


I think you’re only ever as good as your last mistake. And while we’re working for a world in which digital services work perfectly every time, the reality is that today, they don’t in every case, and everyone’s experienced that failure, probably at a very inconvenient time.

I’ll give you an example – my local town moved to cashless parking meters. When that happened, a whole bunch of people unfortunately ended up getting billed for hundreds and hundreds of pounds of parking charges they never actually incurred.

Immediately when something like that happens, the trust is damaged. And once that happens to someone, they’re going to be reticent about using the service again – and they’re going to talk. So I think that trust gap is inherently valid. And it’s natural that when there’s a problem, it’s much more widely broadcast than the billions of transactions that were executed perfectly. That’s just human nature.

So I think it’s valid, and I think financial organizations have to be on top of these issues. They have to have visibility of them, and they have to react quickly when there’s a problem and remediate the issue quickly.

Taking the initiative.

But also, they have to be more proactive. Some of our forward-thinking customers are trying to proactively capture when an issue has happened. So let’s say you’re trying to make a payment, and it’s not gone through.

Rather than that being a scenario where they’re just in it for your money, so nothing is done about the issue, they’re actually reaching out to proactively go, “Hey, look, we’ve seen you tried to complete this transaction, we can see it didn’t work. Can we help you with that transaction? And can we compensate you in some way? Can we give you a voucher for a coffee?”

Some of our forward-thinking customers are doing that already – perhaps not around payments at this point, but certainly around other financial transactions.


That starts to answer our next logical question, which is what can digital service providers, and in some respects what can banks actually, fundamentally do about the public trust gap?

Because as you say, the idea is that you’re only as good as your last mistake. And any mistake that happens becomes that circle of negative reinforcement, doesn’t it? People tell people, “Oh, I had this trouble. Don’t use this technology, this thing happened to me….” And so it becomes much bigger than it necessarily is – a kind of urban legend of techno-failure. How do you combat that?


There’s a combination of strategies, I think. We’ve seen high street banks doing this for a while – they have digital champions in branch (where there is a branch, as you say), which means there’s a source of digital-specific help, delivering advice and customer services for elderly people, for example, to help them with the transition in the way things are done. So there’s an education and a customer care element to it, from a digital perspective.

I’m interested in the concept of what a great digital experience is, for me, or someone that’s 20, or someone that’s 70, because the answers in all three of those cases are going to be different.

A lot of our customers focus on page load speed – has the application performed quickly. And has it completed the task it was it was there to do. Those metrics are valid, and for me, speed is a big thing.

For an older person going through the same transaction, speed is possibly far less relevant, compared to the ease with which they were guided through the process.

Beyond one-size-fits-all.

So forward-thinking customers are looking now at the digital experience as something other than a one-size-fits-all process. Being able to measure and understand the digital experience as it relates to different demographics is really important, and being able to tailor the customer journey to the needs of that demographic makes a huge difference.

We’ve been in a world for years now that understands accessibility considerations for partially sighted or hard of hearing people, and this is really just extending that out into your broader demographic. So I think certainly, that’s got to be considered, because you see a lot of financial apps now that have taken on the characteristics of the more common social media apps and started looking fairly similar.

And that’s great if you’re using those apps. But if you’re not, it’s not helpful at all, it’s entirely alien to some of your customers.


And arguably, it falsely advertises who your premium users are – those of an age and a culture to use those social media apps.

Is there a place for the use of personas in training those systems?


Very much so. Certainly with our customers, we use AI to benchmark what a good experience looks like. But that’s a generic kind of experience – it’s how the application performs on a good day or a Tuesday afternoon, given certain conditions. So what customers can then do is build upon that to say, “Well, actually, based on this category of customer, this is the experience we’re looking for.”

We care about whether people can do what they want to do, every time, with the ease they’re looking for from their digital transactions. Ultimately, it’s better for everyone if, when there is a problem, rather than it being on the consumer to reach out and say, “Hey, I’ve got an issue,” or come back tomorrow and try again, that the institution reaches back out to that customer to say, “Hey, look, we spotted a problem, we’ve actually reviewed what you did, and we see what the issue is. We can either help you or we can attribute a problem on our side, and we’re gonna do something about that, and we’re gonna give you a voucher” or something.

It’s down to companies, digital providers, and banks, to do something about it. Instantly, if we do that, trust levels become infinitely higher.


In Part 3 of this article, we’ll follow the journey from where we are now – with digital providers just beginning to manage the aftercare of people’s tech failures with cashless technology – into how the world (and the UK in particular) will look when the daily reality is, if not an entirely cashless society, then at least a society in which cash has fairly specific and potentially limited uses.