Cash Worldwide: Spending in the Netherlands
The second edition of CMS Analytics’ documentation of first-hand payment experiences across the globe finds Marketing Executive, Josie Penfold, in the Netherlands – the country leading the race towards a low cash dependency in the eurozone. With a card at the ready, Josie provides insight into just how far the Netherlands is on its cashless journey.
Amsterdam; the city built on historic canals. Tilted, narrow gabled houses sketch the route for locals to cycle down little streets and across busy bridges. Compact with people and bikes, clogs and tulips, creativity and hype – Amsterdam is drenched in culture and artistry – and I was excited to soak it all up!
Having learned my lesson from my trip to Sweden, where I was carrying too much physical cash in an almost cash-free society, I was sure to research my destination to determine just how far the ‘cash-free’ hype traveled in the Netherlands.
‘The Dutch Payment Landscape: One of the most cashless in Europe’
That was the top of my search results when asking Google whether Amsterdam is cash-free. The media and official reports all pointed towards the Netherlands’ somewhat rapid journey to a cash-free society. According to a survey by the G4S World Cash Report 2018, just 45% of point-of-sale (POS) transactions in the Netherlands were made in cash in 2016, down from 53% in 2014 making the Dutch spend the lowest share of cash in the Eurozone. And these numbers are declining. While these figures aren’t as low as the 25% of Sweden’s cash transactions, when they are placed into context against the rest of the eurozone these figures are significantly lower. Indeed, the European Central Bank determined that over 75% of all payments at POS were made in cash. Eager to avoid being left with an abundance of leftover euros then, I packed my bags and boarded the flight to the city of bridges and bikes with my purse carrying nothing but a newly registered Monzo card.
Arriving late Thursday evening, a train-fare from Schiphol Airport to the city center was my first expense using my Monzo card – hassle free. I had, of course, read that earlier this year, Amsterdam’s transport systems had turned cash-free. Feeling proud of my research with my shiny new card and its near-spot rate conversion, I jumped on the train ready to tap-and-go for the rest of the trip. However, the next morning I realized that perhaps the Netherlands wasn’t as ‘cash-free’ as I had expected. Eating pancakes in a carousel themed café, where every table was filled with hungry-travelers, I encountered a bump on my road to my first-ever cashless holiday. After devouring our bodyweight in Nutella filled pancakes, we asked for the bill. The waitress happily presented our bill with a note scribbled on the bottom that read ‘cash only’. When questioned, she advised that as the café was ‘too busy’, card payments would not be accepted. Borrowing the fifteen or so euros from my friend, I realized that the Netherlands wasn’t quite as far-along the cash-free journey as Sweden.
As the day progressed, the ‘cash only’ issue continued. A small supermarket selling drinks and snacks also refused to accept card. In desperate need for an ATM to cater for any potential ‘cash only’ spends, and to pay my friend back, I used the first I could find. Located in a little gift shop, the independent ATM had a hefty three-euro charge for any requested amount. I decided to see how far one hundred euros would carry me. The G4S World Cash Report does detail how there has been a consistent decline in the value of ATM withdrawals since 2011, suggesting that people in Amsterdam are less reliant on cash.
I spent the rest of my trip switching between cash and card, always wary that I had enough cash to cover my upcoming activities. While the Netherlands may be one of the countries leading the cashless push in the eurozone, its requirement for cash raises the question whether any eurozone country can be reliable for the exclusive use of card.
The media has branded the Netherlands as one of the ‘biggest players’ in the eurozone in the move towards a cashless society; however, it seems that cash is still an important part of the Dutch payment landscape. While card payments are increasing, and the use of cash is expected to reduce further with the launch of the Instant Payment system in May 2019, it is unlikely that the Netherlands will become completely cash-free any time soon. Indeed, with more news stories arising regarding the impact of cash-free societies on the elderly and other vulnerable people, cash remains a necessary reserve. Therefore, while it may be smart for tourists to look to alternative methods of spending abroad, such as using a Monzo card and other fintech start-ups, we should remember that amongst all the hype, cash is far from extinction. Instead, cash remains as the ‘reserve payment method’.