IS THERE SUCH A THING AS HAVING TOO MUCH CASH? An Examination of the Links Between Cash Usage and Bad Behavior

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1 IS THERE SUCH A THING AS HAVING TOO MUCH CASH? BY HUGH THOMAS AND KEVIN MELLYN An Examination of the Links Between Cash Usage and Bad Behavior Anyone who has ever negotiated a purchase knows why it might be preferable to pay for it with cash. Sellers often ask to be paid in cash because it constitutes an immediate transfer of funds that can be put to use right away. Because of this, sellers are often willing to lower their prices for buyers willing to pay cash. Cash also eliminates the risks associated with partial payments or credit, and it offers anonymity to both buyer and seller. The considerations above make a strong case, then, for using cash when buying stolen goods or when seeking to avoid giving the tax man his due, but for most of the purchases we make every day, considerations like financing and anonymity are rarely top of mind. For the vast majority of payments we make, how we choose to pay depends mainly on habit and convenience. Cash is almost always an option for payment (except when buying online), but its convenience often depends on how much of it you have in your wallet. Other factors, such as card rewards or purchase insurances offered on credit cards, mean that cash is very often the least beneficial payment instrument for the purchaser. Online shopping and online banking have fundamentally changed the way we buy things, suggesting that deeply ingrained purchasing habits can change. So why does so much cash usage persist? $8.3 * TRILLION ADVISORS PRELIMINARY ESTIMATES OF GLOBAL CASH USAGE SUGGEST THAT 8.3 TRILLION DOLLARS ($US) OF CONSUMER PURCHASES ANNUALLY ARE MADE OUTSIDE THE FORMAL ECONOMY, USING CASH. THIS INCLUDES AN ESTIMATED $US 6.8 TRILLION OF UNDERGROUND ECONOMY PURCHASES AND APPROXIMATELY $US 1.5 TRILLION IN ILLEGAL PURCHASES. In many places the persistence of cash is symptomatic of a large informal economy. Such economies can only run on cash, and this preference for cash feeds, and is in turn fed by, bad behavior such as corruption and bribery. This bad behavior can be a substantial drag on the overall economy, suggesting that governments benefit by moving their citizenry away from cash. In recent years several countries, notably Korea, Mexico, and Argentina, have done just this, taking regulatory measures to persuade both buyers and sellers to reduce their use of cash. In this article we will look at the links between cash, bad behavior, and negative economic consequences, and conclude by discussing some of the solutions governments around the world have implemented to solve the problem of too much cash. * Transparency International 2010, havocscope.com 2010, MasterCard Advisors analysis. OCTOBER

2 HEAVY CASH USAGE IS NOT RESTRICTED TO DEVELOPING MARKETS Countries around the world fall into four broad categories of cash usage patterns. Places such as Canada and the U.K. are examples of developed markets with low cash usage, while Germany and the U.S. are examples of developed markets with high cash usage. Places such as Australia, Turkey, and Korea are considered markets in transition, where regulatory measures impacting payment choice have been initiated. The final category, which includes the majority of the world s countries and population, fall into the category of developing markets with high cash usage. FIGURE 1: GLOBAL CASH USAGE CATEGORIES Developed Markets with Low Cash Usage* Developed Markets with High Cash Usage* Developing Markets with High Cash Usage* Markets in Transition* Canada Sweden Germany Japan Brazil India Australia Kenya Turkey France U.K. Italy U.S.A. China Russia Korea South Africa *Example markets. Source: MasterCard Advisors Analysis 2

3 CASH USAGE VARIES SUBSTANTIALLY EVEN WITHIN COUNTRY CATEGORIES The charts below set out Advisors preliminary estimates of the percentage, by value, of consumer purchases that are made using cash in different countries around the world. The figures show that even in developed markets, where all the requisite infrastructure and incentives to move away from cash exist, cash use varies substantially. In some countries it accounts for less than 1 of all consumer payments, while in others the figure is greater than. FIGURE 2: ESTIMATED PERCENTAGE OF CONSUMER PAYMENTS (BY VALUE) MADE WITH CASH DEVELOPED MARKETS / HIGH CASH DEVELOPED MARKETS / LOW CASH AUT CZH GER GRE HUN ITA JPN POL PORT 10 BEL CAN DEN FIN FRA IRE NED NOR SLV 10 The figures show that even in developed markets, where all the requisite infrastructure and incentives to move away from cash exist, cash use varies substantially. In some countries it accounts for less than 1 of all consumer payments, while in others the figure is greater than. SING SWE SLVK SWI SPA TAI US UK DEVELOPING MARKETS / HIGHEST CASH DEVELOPING MARKETS / LOWER CASH BUL BRA IND CHI INDO CHN ROM PERU RUS THL MARKETS IN TRANSITION / HIGH CASH MARKETS IN TRANSITION / LOW CASH ARG AUS MEX KOR Sources: World Bank Database 2011 and MasterCard Advisors analysis; figures exclude black and gray market spend. 3

4 CASH AND CORRUPTION TRAVEL TOGETHER With an idea of how prevalent cash use is on a country by country basis it becomes possible to observe correlations between cash usage and other points of known data. Looking at the level of cash usage alongside measures of corruption, a strong link emerges between the two. In many parts of the world, a preference for cash may be driven by a need for anonymity for payer and payee, in order to operate in economies where bribery is a part of everyday life. FIGURE 3: CASH USAGE AND CORRUPTION THE GLOBAL CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX SCORE 1=MOST CORRUPT, 10=LEAST CORRUPT DEN SWE FIN SING AUS SWI HK NED CAN NOR IRE AUT GER UK JPN CHI CHN BEL US FRA SLV PORT TAI SPA KOR POL CZH MLY SLVK ITA BRA PERU GRE MEX ARG HUN INDO RUS CORRELATION: -0.72% ROM IND BUL Looking at the level of cash usage alongside measures of corruption, a strong link emerges between the two. In many parts of the world, a preference for cash may be driven by a need for anonymity for payer and payee, in order to operate in economies where bribery is a part of everyday life CASH AS A PERCENTAGE OF ALL CONSUMER PAYMENTS BY VALUE Sources: Transparency International s 2011 Global Corruption Perceptions Index and MasterCard Advisors analysis, figures for cash exclude black and gray market spend. The tight correlation shown here offers the first piece of evidence that cash feeds, and is fed by, bad behavior. Corrupt officials don t take credit cards for bribes, so the payments that grease the wheels in more venal economies may account in some part for the high prevalence of cash. The Global Corruption Perceptions Index develops its ratings by asking questions such as: Do you trust the government? and Is corruption a big problem in your country? ; the lower the rating, the less the citizens trust their governments. In countries where mistrust is high, citizens may elect to operate primarily in cash and outside the formal economy because they do not wish to expose themselves to taxation, fines, or fees from corrupt officials. 4

5 CASH-HEAVY ECONOMIES ARE HARDER PLACES TO DO BUSINESS If cash begets (and is begotten by) corruption, then corruption appears to beget difficulties in doing business. Looking again at the estimates of cash as a percentage of consumer payments, we see a tight correlation between cash and the ease of doing business in the economies considered. Countries where it s harder to do business appear to also be countries where consumers make more payments using cash. FIGURE 4: CASH USAGE AND EASE OF DOING BUSINESS EASE OF DOING BUSINESS SCORE 1-160, 160=HARDEST TO DO BUSINESS SLV BEL NED FRA SWI AUT SWE DEN GER JPN AUS CAN IRE FIN KOR US ITA CHN CZH SPA CHI SLVK GER MEX PORT THL POL BRA PERU GRE CORRELATION: UK HK NOR SING HUN INDO RUS IND ROM BUL Looking again at the estimates of cash as a percentage of consumer payments, we see a tight correlation between cash and the ease of doing business in the economies considered. Countries where it s harder to do business appear to also be countries where consumers make more payments using cash. CASH AS A PERCENTAGE OF ALL CONSUMER PAYMENTS BY VALUE Sources: The World Bank s 2010 Ease of Doing Business Index and MasterCard Advisors analysis; figures for cash exclude black and gray market spend. The World Bank calculates its Ease of Doing Business scores as a product of several other measurements of business difficulty. These include factors such as how hard it is to start a business, access to credit, enforceability of contracts, and insolvency laws. It is easy to imagine how getting credit or starting a business would be harder in more corrupt, cash-intensive economies. Credit and the ability to adjudicate credit are particularly hurt in cash-intensive economies, where data on revenues and even assets are faulty or nonexistent because so much of the economy happens in cash and off the books. 5

6 USING CASH ISN T NECESSARILY ABOUT AVOIDING TAX In countries with consumption taxes, value-added taxes, or taxes on goods and/or services, cash payments are often used as a way to avoid paying these local levies. Higher taxes do not, however, appear to be correlated to higher cash usage. Cash intensive economies may have larger gray market economies, but this does not appear to be a result of higher taxes (See Figure 5 below). FIGURE 5: CASH USAGE, GREY MARKETS, AND TAX AVOIDANCE AVERAGE TAX BURDEN 55% 5 45% 35% 3 25% 15% 1 5% SIZE OF THE BUBBLE INDICATES ESTIMATED % OF CONSUMER PAYMENTS, BY VALUE, MADE USING CASH HIGHER TAX: SMALLER GREY MARKET DEN SWE FRA BEL AUT FIN NED NOR ITA GER HUN UK SLV CZH CAN IRE SWI JPN AUS GRE SLVK US KOR POL ARG SPA PORT IND CHN INDO CHI SING TAI MEX LOWER TAX: SMALLER GREY MARKET HIGHER TAX: LARGER GREY MARKET BUL ROM 5% 1 15% 25% 3 35% 45% 5 BRA RUS LOWER TAX: LARGER GREY MARKET In countries with consumption taxes, value-added taxes, or taxes on goods and/or services, cash payments are often used as a way to avoid paying these local levies. Higher taxes do not, however, appear to be correlated to higher cash usage. Cash intensive economies may have larger gray market economies, but this does not appear to be a result of higher taxes. ESTIMATED % OF THE ECONOMY THAT IS GREY OR UNDERGROUND Sources: The Heritage Foundation 2009, The Tax Justice Network 2009, and MasterCard Advisors analysis; figures for cash exclude black and gray market spend. The countries with more cash payments and larger gray markets (seen in Figure 5 as the countries with the larger bubbles to the right of the chart) do not appear to have larger average tax burdens than those with fewer cash payments and smaller gray markets (smaller bubble size/left of the chart). Indeed, many of these countries have substantially lower average tax burdens, suggesting that it is something other than a desire to avoid taxation that underpins the preference for cash. 6

7 CASH-INTENSIVE ECONOMIES ARE LESS PRODUCTIVE PER CAPITA Basic economics tell us that corruption and impediments to business will have a negative impact on the productivity of a given economy. This can also be observed in the direct correlation between cash usage and national per-capita GDP seen in Figure 6 below. FIGURE 6: CASH USAGE AND PER-CAPITA GDP (2011 FIGURES/$US THOUSANDS) PER CAPITA GDP IN USD, AVERAGE OF , IN THOUSANDS $90 $80 $70 $60 $50 $40 $30 $20 $10 AUS HK SWI NOR DEN IRE SWE BEL FIN CAN AUT FRA NED JPN MLY SLV US UK GER SING KOR ITA SPA SLVK CHN CZH CHI PORT GRE POL BRA ARG PERU THL MEX HUN RUS CORRELATION: -0.67% INDO IND $ CASH AS A PERCENTAGE OF ALL CONSUMER PAYMENTS BY VALUE ROM BUL This correlation between lower productivity and a preference for cash suggests that governments may want to investigate deeper into whether there are any causal links between the preference for cash and economic productivity. Sources: Oxford Economics 2011 data and MasterCard Advisors analysis; figures for cash exclude black and gray market spend. This correlation between lower productivity and a preference for cash suggests that governments may want to investigate deeper into whether there are any causal links between the preference for cash and economic productivity. It may be worth considering the knock-on effects of a preference for cash when attempting to tally up the social and private costs of different payment instruments. 7

8 SOME GOVERNMENTS ARE ALREADY GETTING INVOLVED Many governments appear to be acknowledging the benefits of moving away from cash, and are getting involved in payment choices by creating incentives to go electronic. FIGURE 7: GOVERNMENT ELECTRONIC PAYMENT INITIATIVES AROUND THE GLOBE BOLETAZO INITIATIVE MULTIPLE ELECTRONIC PAYMENT INITIATIVES M-PESA VAT DISCOUNT FOR ELECTRONIC PAYMENTS Developed Markets with Low Cash Usage Developed Markets with High Cash Usage Developing Markets with High Cash Usage Markets in Transition COUNTRY INITIATIVE DETAILS Argentina VAT Discounts for Electronic Payments In Argentina, under regulations designed to reduce the size of the underground economy, cardholders receive a five-point reduction in the country s 21% basic VAT rate for debit card transactions, and three points for credit card transactions. There is a separate two-point reduction for purchases of gasoline. Reimbursement is monthly, with the amount credited to the cardholder s credit card account or bank account. Kenya M-Pesa Conceived and launched by the U.K. government Department for International Development (DFID) and Vodafone s Kenyan affiliate Safricom, the initial concept of M-Pesa was to create a service that allowed microfinance borrowers to conveniently receive and repay loan rates to their users by reducing the cost of handling cash. Once launched, customers previously lacking access to baking services began using it for a variety of financial applications. The main focus of M-Pesa today is payments and remittances. M-Pesa customers can deposit and withdraw money from a network of agents that includes airtime resellers and retail outlets acting as banking agents. Korea Multiple Initiatives The South Korean government has a long history of creating incentives to move away from cash. The first of these began prior to the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, and offered tax incentives for businesses that accepted cards, coupled with audits for those who refused to accept them. Incentives to consumers included lotteries and tax breaks. Recently the government has spurred further expansion by allowing the payment of school tuition and utilities with cards. Mexico Boletazo The Ministry of Finance launched this program to promote the use of cards. It is funded with taxdeductible contributions from commercial banks to a trust fund. The program s two main components are a lottery system (Boletazo) that enters every card transaction into a raffle for prizes and a program that promotes deployment of POS terminals at no cost to the merchant. 8

9 CONCLUSIONS There will always be a need for cash in some form. In places where infrastructures do not exist, or have been compromised, its portability and stored value can mean that cash is the only way to pay. Cash in some form is here to stay, whether we like it or not. So while there may be good reasons to ensure that we are always able to use cash, its predominance in some economies suggests that cash usage feeds, and is being fed by, bad behavior. The estimates of cash usage prepared for this paper suggest that cash usage in many economies far outstrips what would be expected of consumers making rational micro-economic choices, and inasmuch as cash seems to be facilitating bad behavior, this preference for cash is not a good thing. The information presented here can in no way be seen as implying any causation between cash usage and bad behavior. To blame bad behavior like corruption on a preference for cash would be like blaming high unemployment on too many job seekers. It would be blaming the symptoms for the disease. The most we can imply from the data reviewed is that a preference for cash appears, in many cases, to be symptomatic of broader economic problems and bad behavior. Data on the effect that reducing cash (i.e., through incentives such as M-Pesa or Boletazo) has had on this bad behavior are difficult to interpret and cannot be seen to imply a causal relationship between the two. This said, few governments that have undertaken initiatives to reduce the use of cash would question that they had had a positive overall effect on their economy. The estimates of cash usage prepared for this paper suggest that cash usage in many economies far outstrips what would be expected of consumers making rational micro-economic choices, and inasmuch as cash seems to be facilitating bad behavior, this preference for cash is not a good thing. NEXT STEPS This is the first in a series of articles on the cost and consequences of cash. Planned future topics include: SUBJECT The World Beyond Cash: Cash Transaction Pools Factors Affecting Payment Choice Merchant Considerations For Cash Usage SUMMARY Delving still deeper into the pools of cash transactions identified in Is There Such a Thing As Having Too Much Cash? this short paper will provide estimates of the size of cash pools around the globe by payment locale (country and expenditure type) and offer ideas as to why these volumes persist as cash. Cash is still used in a variety of situations where pure rational micro-economic considerations among stakeholders would suggest that other solutions would be preferred. This short paper offers a framework by which to think about all the considerations that go into stakeholder payment preference. Cash is often perceived as the cheapest means by which to receive payment because it lacks any ad valorem element of cost (elements present in other methods of payment, such as credit and debit). This point of view only considers payment vehicles from a cost perspective, whereas a more balanced, P&L-type perspective is required. This study will flesh out the full list of factors to be considered as merchants seek to qualify the cost associated with different payment instruments. 9

10 ABOUT THE AUTHORS Hugh Thomas Senior Managing Consultant, MasterCard Advisors Kevin Mellyn Principal, MasterCard Advisors For additional insights, please visit and insights.mastercard.com MasterCard. All rights reserved. Proprietary and Confidential. Insights and recommendations are based on proprietary and third-party research, as well as MasterCard s analysis and opinions, and are presented for your information only.

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