As a Dane, you may think that travelling through Europe without the use of notes or coins would be a piece of cake. However, cash is still king in large parts of Europe, and in many places you will run into problems if trying to pay your taxi fare or groceries with a debit or a credit card.
To prove that very point, founder of the Italian association CashlessWay, Geronimo Emili, left Bergamo, Italy last week to embark on his first European #NoCashTrip.
First cashless trip in Europe
Geronimo Emili goes on his #NoCashTrip to promote the idea of a cashless society, and this year’s trip is the fourth in row but the first one outside of Italy. The trip will take him and his team all the way from Bergamo to Liverpool, with a stopover in Copenhagen along the way.
Asked on a cracking telephone line about the purpose of the #NoCashTrip, Geronimo Emili, heading down the Italian motorway, enthusiastically explains:
"I co-founded the association 'CashlessWay' six years ago with the goal of promoting cashless payments primarily in Italy. We focus on the cultural barriers that prevent Italy and many other countries from harvesting the enormous advantages of moving from cash to digital payments. The #NoCashTrip started in 2013 as a way to attract further attention to this important cause, but this year's trip is the first time that the team will travel outside Italy and all the way across Europe without the use of cash – hopefully!"
Many reasons for leaving cash behind
In addition to promoting the cashless idea as such, the purpose of the European trip is to point out the many different digital solutions available across Europe, and to underline the necessity of working together across the industry and preferably across borders.
"If at some point in the future we want to realise the vision of a cashless Europe, the countries and regions have to work closer together, agree on common goals and standards, and benchmark each other's solutions," says Geronimo Emili, and continues:
"Promoting a cashless way is important for many reasons: Digital payments are far less expensive than cash for merchants, banks and society in general. Furthermore, getting rid of cash is believed to help solve problems with tax evasion and to lower certain kinds of crime. And finally, shifting from cash to digital payments is a major step towards financial inclusion, which is a big issue in the world today."
The Nordic countries as role models
The #NoCashTrip will visit Denmark this year. Thanks to a long-standing collaborative effort between Nets, Danish banks, Danish merchants, and the public sector, a mere quarter of all payments in Denmark today are in cash, which means Denmark is a country on the verge of cashlessness.
Several digital payment solutions have been launched in Denmark over the years, with Dankort, the national debit card, as the most popular one with no less than 5.8 million cards issued in a population of 4.9 million citizens over the age of 18.
The average annual spend per Dankort amounts to DKK 63.07 with 1.2 billion payments made with the card in 2015. In the autumn, Nets will launch the mobile contactless Dankort for smartphones, which is likely to boost the use of the card even further. In addition, Dankort is by far the cheapest method of payment. According to a survey by Denmark's central bank, handling a cash payment will cost society DKK 7.36 compared to only DKK 3.15 for a Dankort payment.
Asked whether or not he sees Denmark and the other Nordic countries as role models for cashlessness, Geronomi Emili explains:
"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."
"But it's not only the Nordics that are doing well. A country like Poland has made some impressive moves forward too, very fast, and has rolled out some neat NFC solutions that are inexpensive, convenient and well integrated. Our mission, clearly, is to encourage other countries, such as Italy, to follow these examples."
Open dialogue is the way forward
Geronimo Emili underlines that he and CashlessWay realised a long time ago that compromise and an open dialogue with all relevant stakeholders within the payments landscape are the only realistic way forward towards a higher degree of digital payments:
"When we started CashlessWay and the Italian event NoCashDay six years ago, we were very direct and sometimes almost aggressive in our communication. For example, we started a blog called "War on Cash", but gradually we realised that less aggressive communication and a much more open attitude would be far more efficient going forward. As a result, we renamed our blog 'NewMoney.it'," says Geronimo Emili.
"Our grand vision is still a cashless Europe, but it will take years to get there. One of the most important steps forward is to give merchants the liberty of choice to refuse cash and to enable their customers to pay digitally everywhere, if they prefer to do so. Everyone should have that opportunity," Emili concludes.
 Danmarks Nationalbank: Cost of payments in Denmark, 2011, p. 8.