Electronic or digital cash combines computerized convenience with security and privacy that improve on paper cash. The versatility of digital cash opens up a host of new markets and applications. Digital cash attempts to replace paper cash as the principal payment vehicle in online payments. Although it may be surprising to some, even after thirty years of developments in electronic payment systems, cash is still the most prevalent consumer payment instrument.
Cash remains the dominant form of payment for three reasons:
- Lack of consumer trust in the banking system;
- Inefficient clearing and settlement of non-cash transactions; and
- Negative real interest rates on bank deposits.
These reasons behind the prevalent use of cash in business transactions indicate the need to re-engineer purchasing processes. In order to displace cash, electronic payment systems need to have some cash-like qualities that current credit and debit cards lack. For example, cash is negotiable, meaning that it can be given or traded to someone else. Cash is legal tender, meaning that the payee is obligated to take it. Cash is a bearer instrument, meaning that possession is proof of ownership. Cash can be held and used by anyone, even those without a bank account. Finally, cash places no risk on the part of the acceptor; the medium is always good.
In comparison to cash, debit and credit cards have a number of limitations. First, credit and debit cards cannot be given away because, technically, they are identification cards owned by the issuer and restricted to one user. Credit and debit cards are not legal tender, given that merchants ‘have the right to refuse to accept them. Nor are credit and debit cards bearer instruments; their usage requires an account relationship and authorization system. Similarly, checks require either personal knowledge of the payer, or a check guarantee system. A really novel electronic payment method needs to do more than recreate the convenience that is offered by credit and debit cards; it needs to create a form of digital cash that has some of the proper-ties of cash.
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