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Canada At #1 In Ranking Of World's Most Cashless Societies

Switching to digital payments would boost the economy, a new study argues.

When the world finally goes cash-free, there's a good chance Canadians will get there first. The country is moving towards a cashless society faster than anyone else, studies suggest.

One study, from trading site Forex Bonuses, named Canada the most advanced country in the world when it comes to cashless payments, narrowly edging out Sweden and the U.K. (See infographic below.)

The study looked at six elements of a cashless world: credit cards per person; debit cards per person; the share of cards that are contactless; the rate of growth of cashless payments; the share of payments made using non-cash methods; and the public's awareness of their non-cash options.

Watch: Could a cashless society be growing nearer?

Canada came out on top because of its reliance on plastic; there are more than two credit cards per person in Canada, Forex Bonuses noted. However, it was Sweden that led the way when it came to actual digital payments. There, 59 per cent of payments are non-cash, compared to 57 per cent in Canada, Forex Bonuses said.

The second study, carried out for Visa by think tank Roubini ThoughtLab, looked at 100 cities worldwide and identified Toronto and Ottawa as "digital leaders" in the payments field.

"The use of digital technologies — from smartphones and wearables to artificial intelligence and driverless cars — is rapidly transforming how city dwellers shop, travel, and live," Lou Celi, head of Roubini ThoughtLab, said in a statement.

"Without a firm foundation in electronic payments, cities will not be able to fully capture their digital future, according to our analysis."

Going cashless would give economy a boost

Businesses and consumers would save time, and cash-based crime would be reduced, the study predicted.

Across the 100 cities studied, consumers and businesses would save 3.2 billion hours of time between today and 2032, thanks to faster digital payments. The economic "net benefits" from moving to more digital payments would amount to US$470 billion in that time for those 100 cities.

On average, cities' economies would be about 3 per cent larger by then than they would have been, had the switch to digital payments not happened, the study found.

That would be enough to create 12,000 new jobs in Toronto and about 3,100 new jobs in Ottawa between today and 2032, the Roubini ThoughtLab study estimated.

"This study demonstrates the substantial upside for consumers, businesses and governments as cities move toward greater adoption of digital payments," Ellen Richey, Visa's vice chairperson and chief risk officer, said in a statement.

"Societies that substitute digital payments for cash see benefits from greater economic growth, less crime, more jobs, higher wages, and increased worker productivity."

Privacy and safety concerns

Of course not everyone is happy about a move away from cash. In a survey earlier this year from Payments Canada, only about half of Canadians said they were ready to move to a cashless world.

Many have expressed concerns about privacy and the safety of personal information online. The recent hack at ratings agency Equifax, which exposed the personal data of at least 145 million Americans and some 8,000 Canadians, highlights the problems with personal finances in the digital age.

Still, the Payments Canada survey showed many Canadians — about 48 per cent — are willing to sacrifice some degree of privacy in exchange for the convenience of cashless payments.

Check out Forex Bonuses' infographic of the 10 most cashless societies in the world:

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