Young people, payment apps, and the expectation of a cashless future

Paul HiebertData Journalist
August 05, 2016, 1:57 PM GMT+0

New data from YouGov Omnibus shows that 56% of millennials believe cash will eventually come to an end

Sci-fi author William Gibson is often credited as the first to say, "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." It's a notion that describes several aspects of everyday life disrupted by the engineers and entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley, from how we communicate to how we commute to how we exchange money.

While some experts believe the advent of mobile-payment apps, such as Venmo, PayPal, or Google Wallet, signal the death of cash, a new survey from YouGov Omnibus shows that only 35% of Americans have ever used them. Indeed, more people prefer using a debit card over all other payment methods when purchasing groceries at the store or settling a bill at a restaurant. When taking a taxi, the most desirable option is cash.

Additional data reveals that, though they disagree on the timeline, a slight majority of the public (52%) believes cash is headed for extinction. At the same time, however, a similar amount of people (48%) believe cash is here to stay no matter how many newfangled devices and services appear on the money-exchange market. Of the three age groups, none expect cash to eventually disappear more than millennials — 56%, compared to 52% of those aged 35-54 and 48% of those 55+.

If mobile-payment apps are the technology of tomorrow, what prevents more people from adopting them today? The survey shows that, for those who say they're unlikely to download such an app anytime soon, 44% have security concerns, such as hacking and identity theft, 32% flat out don't trust the technology, and 16% don't know which stores accept them. At 56%, the majority feel comfortable with their current approach to currency, and therefore see little reason to change. Other hurdles include both a lack of understanding and phone capability.

For those hoping to distribute the future more evenly, that's the bad news. The good news is that 63% of young people between the ages of 18-34 say they are likely to use a mobile-payment app in the future. 67% of people 55 and up say the opposite.

PayPal, which owns Venmo, currently has a market cap of $46.8 billion. That's more than Netflix ($40.6 billion), and way more than Twitter ($13.3 billion). As young people continue to gravitate toward mobile-payment apps, expect PayPal's number to grow.