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Ross Brown stopped accepting cash at his London cafe more than one year ago. Since then, business is better than ever.
"So many people were paying with cards anyway we just decided to make the full switch," he told CNBC.
The cafe owner was inspired to stop taking paper notes after a trip to Sweden, where cash is only used for 20 percent of payments in shops, according to the country's central bank. Brown said the decision to go cashless has made business at his coffee shop, Browns of Brockley faster, and safer. His employees save time without frequent trips to the bank, and a recent break-in to the store only resulted in the theft of a laptop, versus thousands of pounds that would have been lost before.
"It's been overwhelmingly positive for us," he said. "We found that the time it takes to count the cash, go to the bank… It wasn't an effective use of our time."
Browns of Brockley, southeast London, is among a growing number of small businesses in the U.K. that are ditching cash. A recent report by ForexBonuses, a global trading website, found the U.K. is the third most cashless country in the world, after Canada and Sweden. Debit cards are forecast to overtake cash payments for the first time ever across the country this year, according to trade association U.K. Finance.
The transition toward digital and card payments is forcing many organizations that typically rely on cash to embrace new technology. The Church of England recently announced it will start accepting contactless payments for events like weddings, christenings and one-off donations with the help of two fintech (financial technology) companies. The church said it hopes to use a card reader for collections at services soon, too.
But not everyone thinks the U.K. is set to become a cashless society. Graham Mott is head of strategy at LINK, which connects 70,000 ATMs across the U.K. He said 2.7 million people across the country, which has a population of 65 million, still rely exclusively on cash payments.
"It's going to be a long long time before cash disappears," Mott said. "From a business perspective, there's a long way for ATMs to go."
Data show low-income and elderly households are some of the most frequent cash users. Mott said LINK's job is to ensure that cash users across the country still have access to ATMs even as digital payments increase.
"Cash is a very emotional thing," Mott said. "People like the feel of the cash. It enables them to feel secure."
At Browns of Brockley, Ross Brown said he has rarely turned away customers who prefer to pay with cash over card. He said he sees more and more small businesses like his choosing to go cashless.
"I think we probably have customers here now that don't even know we don't accept cash because they just tap their card and go and get on with their day," he said.