On Wednesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that abolitionist Harriet Tubman will replace American President and slave owner Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. The revamped $20, along with new designs for the $5 and $10, will be unveiled in 2020.
However, it’s unclear when, exactly, the new bills will go into circulation for use by average Americans. A Treasury spokesperson said it was impossible to predict when the new bills–which will feature complicated anti-counterfeit technology and textural details to help the visually impaired–will be ready for the public.
So the question arises: When the new bills finally are available in 10 or 20 years or whatever, will we still be using cash then?
Countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Norway have been moving toward becoming cashless–several major banks don’t even carry cash. Electronic transactions facilitated by credit and debit cards and smartphone payments are frictionless, safer, and cheaper for society, proponents argue.
It appears that America is much more attached to cash than other countries, however. According to a 2013 report from the Boston Fed, cash was the second most popular means of business transactions, right behind debit cards–with 26% and 31% of transactions, respectively. (Credit cards were in third place.) The Boston Fed report noted that there is a “persistent reliance on cash.”
Still, mobile payment adoption is rising. Consulting giant Deloitte says that 2015 was an inflection point for the use of “contactless” mobile payments, reaching retailers, financial institutions, and consumers alike.
So will cash forever be king in America? It’s hard to say. But it’s a very safe bet that the U.S. won’t become a cash-free society anytime soon–and that plenty of people will be eager to get their hands on Harriet Tubman $20s when they’re finally available.
The decision to put an American hero who has two X chromosomes on our currency is long overdue, after all. Perhaps we’ve been saying it wrong the last few hundred years, anyway: maybe cash is queen.