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Business News/ Specials / Paper Money Diehards Refuse to Fold
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Paper Money Diehards Refuse to Fold

wsj

Many businesses take payment only by card or phone, but a pro-cash movement is urging people to ‘Resist! Defy! Don’t comply!’

FILE PHOTO: U.S. dollar banknotes are seen in this illustration taken March 10, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo (REUTERS)Premium
FILE PHOTO: U.S. dollar banknotes are seen in this illustration taken March 10, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo (REUTERS)

HUDDERSFIELD, England—There’s another revolt brewing in the English heartlands.

“Let’s boycott the shops that won’t take cash—where are they?" Debbie Hicks yelled into a microphone in the town square on a recent Saturday. A few in the 200-strong crowd murmured some names—a coffee shop, a bakery.

“OK, we can do this," Hicks said. “It’s not too late!"

Some 200 years after textile workers smashed newfangled looms here during the first stirrings of the industrial revolution, other rebels are worried about a newer technology: tap-and-go bank cards and smartphone payment apps.

Actual cash changes hands in only around 15% of transactions in the U.K., pushed out by the speed and convenience of using a card or phone. In parts of London, cash has become something akin to a prison currency like ramen noodles or cigarettes, circulated among panhandlers or those on the margins of society.

An unlikely coalition warns that by giving up cash, people could be losing more than they bargained for.

Bank-note printers have pooled resources to fund academic studies to demonstrate how cash is an important piece of infrastructure. Simon Youel at Positive Money, a London nonprofit focusing on financial inclusion, says cash is inherently democratic.

By going card-only, bars and restaurants are trying to pull in what they see as the right kind of customer, usually younger and more affluent, he said. “They’re sending a signal about who’s welcome and who’s not."

People around the world have been embarrassed at times when hair salons, pubs or salad chains asked for plastic and they had only paper.

Some are standing up for paper money and have no plans to fold.

In the U.S., Steven Ferry carries in his wallet—in addition to cash—a supply of small cards created by one of a growing number of pro-cash groups that tout the benefits of physical money. He hands them to cashiers and leaves them on checks at restaurants.

“I paid cash today for a reason :-)" the cards read in part. “Using cash can be inconvenient…but what if it’s worth it?"

Ferry, who lives in eastern Tennessee and is semiretired, isn’t opposed to credit cards but makes a point of paying with cash as often as he can. He and his wife bring hundreds of dollars on twice-monthly errand runs into town.

Ferry said they had “a couple of G’s" on them when they recently bought an iPad and a new phone. He said he has never been particularly worried someone would try to steal the cash he carries, though he does keep pepper spray on his keychain.

For him and some others, this isn’t just an attachment to the old ways. In the U.K., Hicks, who cuts a glamorous figure in her black leather jacket and flowing blond hair, is among those who go further.

She and her supporters say arch-globalists at the World Economic Forum used the Covid pandemic to discourage people from using physical money, and call lockdowns a dummy run for establishing world government.

Hicks was fined for a public-order offense last year after filming in a hospital to prove, she said, that the pandemic was faked. She denied the charge, saying she was exercising her right to freedom of expression.

Others agree with her about the globalists. “Their whole digital system can’t work if we still use cash," said Piers Corbyn, one of the other leaders in Huddersfield, and older brother of former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Onlookers whistled or cheered. Some chanted “Resist! Defy! Don’t Comply!"

The World Economic Forum called the allegations about it false and “very regrettable."

Among pro-cash sympathizers are the brothers behind Right Said Fred, the group known for 1991 hit “I’m Too Sexy."

“We were working with an old people’s home and a homeless shelter," said one of the brothers, Fred Fairbrass. “Without cash, those people are absolutely stranded."

Brett Scott, author of “Cloudmoney: Cash, Cards, Crypto and the War for our Wallets," says a power struggle is set to grow over how people pay for stuff. McKinsey projects the digital-payments industry will be worth $3 trillion by 2026, much of it generated in Asia, particularly China. Cash, Scott argues, provides freedom, anonymity and security.

Others say it can help track their spending. “It’s easier to stick to your budget when you’re at the supermarket," said Jenny Whittaker, out shopping with her 2-year-old. “If I’m using my card or phone, it would quickly get out of control."

In Ireland, lawmakers took up the cause after the overseers of Gaelic football introduced cashless ticketing. Many older fans have been unable to figure out how to buy tickets, some relying on their children to do it for them.

The British parliament is considering moves to make sure people are always within reach of an ATM or bank to withdraw cash. In the U.S., Congress is mulling legislation that would require businesses to accept cash, as is already the case in some cities, such as San Francisco.

The bigger question is whether bills and coins make a comeback or, on the flip side, insisting on them amounts to little more than a protest against the speed with which the world is changing.

Hicks has begun using cash to pay her bills at a post office, which in the U.K. can offer some of the services provided by banks, She concedes it’s difficult to use cash for everything. “I’m not an absolutist," she said.

The pro-cash message is showing signs of getting through. On “Keep It Cash" Facebook groups, supporters are naming businesses that refuse to take cash. Others describe the difficulty of persuading bank tellers to let them withdraw large sums of folding money.

Cash withdrawals ticked up slightly in the U.K. last year, the result, economists say, of people wanting to sock some away.

Hicks and her Keep It Cash team are trying to persuade people in Huddersfield and other towns and cities to part with the readies, as people here like to say.

Volunteers spread out across the street, handing shoppers fliers about how the state can track their spending if they use a card, or how they wouldn’t be able to give tips or gifts for their grandchildren if cash disappeared.

“Use it or lose it," some shouted.

At a bakery offering cake samples to passersby, Hicks paused, eyeing a chance to refuel after a long journey from her home near London.

“Wait a minute, do you accept cash or just card," she asked the assistant holding a tray outside the door.

“Yes, we accept cash," the young woman replied.

“That’s OK, then," Hicks said, taking a bite before looking around for a cafe that might take cash, too.

Write to James Hookway at james.hookway@wsj.com

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