I can still remember the day when Poland FINALLY got Apple Pay. I was surprised that we were so late as we had a robust contactless payment infrastructure. Before Apple Pay was announced there were other solutions around including Google Pay/wallet. I initially intended to use it as a backup plan to my usual payment systems but I soon found myself using it for everything. So I thought it would be useful to consider the advantages and disadvantages of digital payments from a giver’s perspective.
1. You never need to find a cash machine
Have you ever been there when you spot the offering box and your stomach sinks “Did I take out some cash? How much is in my wallet? Do I need that for something else later?” It can be even worse when there’s a surprise extra offering (for a missionary guest or other cause).
It’s no fun to be stuck looking up and down the street for an ATM and finding nothing, or at best a machine which charge service fees. But if you have your phone or smart watch on you, you always have a payment option.
2. It’s faster than fiddling for the right notes or coins
Paying with the Apple Watch is so fast and easy. I never have to remember which pocket my card or cash are in. Instead, I just double tap a button on my wrist and place the watch on the terminal. In Poland, Apple Pay can even be used for amounts over the standard payment thresholds for contactless. When you use a normal card, you have to enter your pin if over the threshold.
This is a real relief from shifting through the pennies to find the right coin or the note that’s buried under the loyalty card for the local coffee shop.
It adds up as well. When everyone just taps a terminal to pay for their transport, like the London Underground, it speeds up the whole process.
3. Automatic tracking of spending
My bank provides details of the type of shops or locations where a purchase where made as well as reports from that data. This gives me insights into where I’m spending my money each month when I use Apple Pay or my card.
Admittedly, this doesn’t include an itemized breakdown: there are no details on how many morning donuts I’ve bought from the shop near work (spoiler alert, it’s a lot). It is, better than nothing and as it happens without any effort on my part, it gives me information I might otherwise miss.
This helps to stay on top of my overall spend and work out if there’s something I ought to cut back on…like morning donuts.
4. Payments when you aren’t in person
A real advantage at the moment is that these services work online, and contactless. In the current time of COVID, not touching and being able to pay or send money across vast distances is really valuable. For churches who have always taken plate offerings without any online giving, this could be a painful time. For the church goer who wants to be able to support the church, they may be confused or frustrated with how they can still give and keep the church running.
Not everything is better with digital payments though. There are a few significant downsides.
1. Harder to track spending
Ironically, although there are automatic tools which help track my spending, I am less aware of my spending when I use these digital tools. This common issue is one of the reasons some games have their own in game currency – it helps divorce you from the money you are spending.
When I have physical cash on me, it’s easier to see the money going out of my wallet and reducing. It’s also easier to have a bigger picture view of spending money as I am aware of when and how much I last drew out of the cash machine.
2. Saving is more difficult
Linked to that last point, I find it easier to save money when I don’t use digital payments and instead take out cash. It’s far easier to slow down spending and focus on not using up a certain amount of money before a certain point.
With digital payments drawing from a bigger well of cash, it’s harder to keep track of that saving goal. I’m sure some people will have the opposite experience here but this is my personal response.
3. Can make giving and charity harder
I have found several situations where I have found it more difficult to give to charities. This is mostly because the giving opportunities didn’t support digital payments, they were in cash. Although many charities do provide options for regular giving with things like direct debit, setting up takes time and I may only want to give one time.
There are more solutions coming along to solve these problem, but they usually cost the charities more money in processing fees.
4. Processing fees
Most giving solutions charge for every payment, donation or they have a fixed fee. This can be a real deterrent to givers who want their donation to go directly to a cause (or shop owner). After all, if I told you that you can give and extra 3% just by giving in cash, wouldn’t that seem like a good thing to you?
Funnily enough though, many of these digital payments and giving solutions actually claim to increase the money that goes into the coffers due to the increased ease of giving.
Which is better? Digital or cash payments?
Honestly, there are definitely some advantages and disadvantages of both approaches. The speed and ease of digital payments a real blessing as well as the cause of many of the issues I have faced with it.
For churches in the current environment, this formula is very different. Providing some sort of digital giving is almost a necessity for those who are unable to meet together. But there will come a time when this all goes away and then it’s not so simple.
Personally, I really like being able to put cash into a box as it passes around and we do so once a month for our offering for missionaries in Mongolia. But the rest of the time, we make a bank deposit because it’s just easier for us.
So, when it comes to digital payments from a giver’s perspective, which do you use most and, which do you prefer: hard cash or digital?