Why cash is still the king in India; Here’s all you need to know

Published: November 15, 2018 4:05:09 PM

The cash share of the economy pre- and post-demonetization remains almost the same, while the total use of cash in India is estimated to grow at 11.9% CAGR through 2020, as per a recent report.

demonetisation, cash share of economy, cash is king, ATM withdrawals, cashless, digital transactionsIn the first 6 months of 2018, ATM withdrawals were close to Rs 15,681 billion.

Prior to demonetization, 95% of transactions were done in cash with some 90% of merchants being unable to accept any other form of payment. According to a recent report (Global Cash Index – pymnts.com), the cash share of the economy (which includes ATM + OTC) is a little over 45% and is predicted to remain the same for the next few years. Also, the cash share of the economy pre- and post-demonetization remains almost the same. The same report says that the total use of cash in India is estimated to grow at 11.9 per cent CAGR through 2020.

ATM Cash Withdrawals in India (INR bn)

The chart shows that ATM withdrawals have more or less maintained steady-state equilibrium over a 2-year time-frame with the obvious dip during the demonetization months. However, the data also shows that things were more or less back to normal by March 2017.

A simple analysis shows how much cash dominates the economy. In the first 6 months of 2018, ATM withdrawals were close to Rs 15,681 billion. If one includes the Over the Counter cash withdrawals, it would be safe to assume that the number could be closer to Rs 30,000 billion. This compares to Rs 9,461 billion for card transactions at POS, PPI cards and m-wallet transactions, UPI and e-commerce transactions all combined (e-commerce transactions for 2018 are forecast to be $50 billion).

This behooves us to understand why cash is so dominant. It is simplistic to assume that cash transactions are to evade taxes or that cash is being hoarded for a variety of reasons, including elections, among others. Neither is the dominance of cash suggestive that the rise in digital financial transactions has been less than optimal.

There are reasons for why cash is dominant in India:

# The International Labour Organization estimates that the informal economy in India accounts for more than 80 per cent of non-agricultural employment. This economy is almost completely driven by cash.

# Low education levels and a lack of understanding of the banking system keep people away, not to mention the limited reach of bank branches.

# There is also the chicken and egg story, which is the relatively low POS penetration in India.

a) India – With a population of 1.2 billion, there are 3.31 million POS terminals currently.

b) Brazil – In 2016, with a population of 206 million, there were 5.08 million POS terminals. The number is considerably higher now.

c) China – In 2016, with a population of 1.38 billion, there were 24.53 million POS terminals in the country.

(By Deepak Chandnani, Managing Director, Worldline South Asia and Middle East, and Managing Director, MRL Posnet)

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