Publication: The crisis, our freedom and our money

Unlimited availability of our money and its ability to be used as a medium of exchange create certainty and lead to personal freedom. But which payment method is proving to be the most robust in any crisis? A reflection on the value of cash in a free society.

By Jochen Werne, Management Board member, Chief Development & Chief Visionary Officer (CDO/CVO) of Prosegur Cash Services Germany GmbH

In times when our life is being affected significantly by the effects of the situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, we become more aware of the basic needs in our lives. However, the COVID-19 crisis, which hits us globally so hard that we are even prepared to give up some of our civil rights and liberties guaranteed by the constitution, also reveals what certainty means and gives us and what we rely on in order to overcome a crisis and regain our freedom.
We live in a world of exponential leaps in technology – and the technological progress has traditionally always resulted in a global improvement in living standards. The international community can be rightly proud of its achievement of reducing the percentage of people who have to live in absolute poverty from 35% to 8% in the last 30 years thanks to global trade. However, it is in times of crisis that we see just how sustainable the goals that have been achieved are. Here prudent and decisive action from political and business leaders is called for. Confidence gained in people and instruments is the greatest asset in times of uncertainty.

Cash: always available

The same applies for payments. While the independent good work over decades of many central banks such as the Deutsche Bundesbank, the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve is making itself noticeable in the crisis and the citizens rely on the stability of the euro and US dollar, cash is also showing itself to be an anchor of confidence in uncertain times. With growing concerns due to the coronavirus, in the USA for example the volume of physical cash in circulation has increased. In the week before 25 March this increased by 1.8% to 1.86 trillion dollars in absolute figures. This represents the biggest weekly increase since December 1999, when the fear of the so-called Millennium Bug was the reason for the rise. As we see today, the technological meltdown did not happen. However, 20 years later we are now more aware than ever of the vulnerability of technology and that in times of crisis the value of certainty is always the greatest asset. The increase in demand for cash, including in Germany, at the start of the corona crisis is probably attributable to this legitimate need of citizens for certainty and their great confidence in cash. According to the Bundesbank, the volume on Monday 16 March alone, the first day upon which schools and nurseries were closed, was 0.7 billion euros above the average.

Electronic payment methods, which are essential in so many areas such as online trading for example, repeatedly risk a loss of confidence due to technical failures. One of the most recent of these incidents occurred during of all times the Christmas shopping period on 23 December 2019, when EC card payments were no longer accepted at many terminals. It is a little like the situation described by the Roman poet Ovid: “People are slow to claim confidence in undertakings of magnitude.” Most certainly our savings – the fruit of our labour – are of this magnitude for us. It is for this reason that the availability of our money is so important. If this availability were restricted, we would start to feel that we might no longer be able to access our money, and a bank run would most likely be the result.
It is not without reason that the “supply of cash” is expressly defined as a “critical service” in Section 7 of the Regulation on the Identification of Critical Infrastructures (BSI-Kritisverordnung – BSI-KritisV) of the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). That is to say a “service to supply the general public […], the loss or impairment of which would result in significant supply shortages or risks to public security.”

Certainty in uncertain times

In the COVID-19 crisis, anxiety about health and the economic consequences of any crisis dominate our daily life. While fear is clearly caused by an external threat, anxiety is indeterminate. As the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote in his Enchiridion of stoic morals: “People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.”
It was therefore also absolutely consistent that the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Central Bank, the Bundesbank and the Robert Koch Institute have been stressing repeatedly in the corona crisis that there is no documented case that would suggest there would be an increased virus risk due to the use of cash as opposed to card payment. They refer here to corresponding scientific studies and underline repeatedly that no information on such a risk has been documented.

Freedom established by the constitution

John Stuart Mill, one of the most successful liberal thinkers of the 19th century, defined freedom as the “first and strongest desire of human nature.” Accordingly, all governmental and social action must be directed towards granting the individual free development, while his freedom, as Mill formulates it in a principle known as the “principle of freedom,” may be limited under one condition: to protect himself or another person. Now, during a serious crisis, all citizens are forgoing some of their fundamental constitutional rights of freedom. This massive intervention is certainly consistent with Mills’ theory in this time of corona. In his novel The House of the Dead, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky describes his own experiences of life in a Siberian prison camp and writes the subsequently oft-quoted sentence: “Money is coined liberty,” whereby he describes the vital relevance of a free exchange of goods in an environment where people are deprived of freedom – with cash in the form of coins.
Although not in the same way as Dostoevsky, we are also living in a time of extreme change: on a social, economic and political level. We are living in a time when, due to exponential technological developments, whole industries and business models are changing radically and countries are competing for supremacy in areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI). It is a time in which transformation is the new norm and an agile corporate culture has to be the key to success. It is currently the case in many traditional industries that “anything that can be digitised, will be digitised.”
And inevitably this also raises the question of whether this is also the case for the first “instant payment” solution, one of the earliest and longest-lasting achievements of human civilisation – for our cash?
Our current free choice of payment method is certainly good, as long as we can choose freely as consumers the payment method appropriate for the respective situation. Discussions about the possible restriction of the freedom of choice of citizens regularly prompt intellectuals to issue warnings. For example, the poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger is of the opinion regarding the issue of “restriction”: “Those who abolish cash, abolish freedom.” This opinion is also shared by Carl-Ludwig Thiele, a former member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank: “Abolishing cash would hurt consumer sovereignty — the free choice of citizens about their payment instruments […] Government agencies do not have the right to tell citizens how they should pay.“

Technological vulnerability, fall-back option and data protection

Particularly in extreme scenarios such as disasters, failures of a digital infrastructure due to cyber attacks, natural events or simply due to technical failure, it is made clear that cash, by its nature, is currently the most robust payment method. The fact that the contactless payment limit has been increased without further ado, for example in supermarkets, at first sounds harmless. However, as a result, anyone can pay for higher-priced goods using a card, and it does not have to be their own card, without any further security checks such as entering a PIN. Everyone has to examine and question critically for themselves the possible consequences of such a payment method.
Also not to be disregarded is the issue of data protection. More cashless payments also mean more personal information disclosed by everyone. Data which numerous companies use for commercial purposes. At the latest since the introduction of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR), the sensitivity of the population of Europe with regard to data protection and privacy has been rising gradually.
Klaus Müller, Germany’s top consumer protector and Executive Director of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv), describes cash as “data protection in practice”. Anyone who pays with cash does not leave any traces to create a consumer profile, purchasing and payment behaviour cannot be manipulated. Cash also helps to protect financial privacy. This was emphasised by Udo Di Fabio, who was a judge of the Federal Constitutional Court for twelve years, at the Cash Symposium 2018 hosted by Deutsche Bundesbank. He explained that every citizen can dispose freely of their money. In his view this freedom would be restricted if financial management were completely digitised.

Smart cash management alleviates the workload of banks

Crises such as the current corona pandemic always bring to light new approaches and act as accelerators of transformation processes that have already been set in motion. With regard to cash-related industries, the banking world has already been in a transformation process for some time. A company such as Prosegur, which, with over 4,000 employees and 31 branches, is a market leader in Germany in the transportation of cash and valuables, is increasingly becoming a full payment-platform provider. Several banks have already taken the path of fully outsourcing their cash management for synergy and cost-saving reasons. Here, cash processes are becoming not only much leaner, but also more cost-effective. This is the case not only for banks, but also for retail customers. With smart machines installed by Prosegur at its customers, cash can be disposed of directly and credited to the customer account on the same day. The smart infrastructure, including dynamic monitoring and forecasting, optimises the logistics and reduces costs in cash logistics. This is the next step towards an efficient, digital and integrated cash management.

Coined Liberty 2.0 and the justification for and rightfulness of cash

In view of the technological progress and the associated social changes, it can be seen that key values from the human perspective are still valid. Based on an intellectual, serious discussion, the relevance to today of the theories of for example Dostoevsky with his experiences in an unfree society is clear: The discussion about the civil rights and liberties of citizens is always very closely related to their ability to use cash freely, to their freedom of choice of payment method and ultimately to the rightfulness of their actions with regards also to effiency and impact.
Our open and liberal society is characterised by the fact that we are discussing and most certainly will continue to discuss “Coined Liberty 2.0” at this level.


Prosegur Cash Services Germany GmbH, Kokkolastraße 5, 40882 Ratingen
Telephone: +49 2102 / 1248‐0, E‐mail: redaktion@prosegur.com, www.prosegur.de

„All things are ready, if our minds be so.“ Shakespeare and the 3rd ICT International Payment Summit

It was greatly stimulating discussing innovation and the impacts of modern technology on our business and society with international experts from South America, Europe and Asia at the 3rd Annual International Payment Summit, organised by ICT. All in the context of Coined Liberty 2.0

Find highlights here

Coined Liberty 2.0

Author: Jochen Werne

First published in German at LinkedIn Pulse on July 20, 2019. Please find article and sources in this link. Publication in English language pleas find below

On the role of cash in a modern society between technological progress and freedom

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky, one of the most important writers of the 19th century, impressively describes in his works the great existential and spiritual conflicts in which mankind was caught at the dawn of modernity. Not only his observations during the turbulent times of the upheaval of the Russian Empire in the 19th century, but also his personal experiences are an essential part of his work.

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky

At the age of 28 and at the beginning of a promising career as a writer, Dostoevsky was sentenced to four years in a Siberian prison camp. The reason for this was his participation in meetings of the Petraschwezen, an intellectual circle that spoke out against tsarist despotism and serfdom. In his novel, “The House of the Dead”, which also describes Dostoyevsky’s own experiences in Siberian captivity, he formulates the sentence that was later much quoted: “Money is coined liberty”. The sentence describes the vital relevance of the possibility of a free exchange of goods in an unfree environment – and this through coined cash money.

More than 150 years have passed since the first publication of the work. Europe needed to go through the age of Enlightenment, the experiences of two world wars and a long cold war to become a peaceful and very liberal place for its citizens. A place which is putting the dignity and freedom of the individual first.

The freedom in our payment options has also multiplied thanks to technological progress. It is part of our everydays life to pay the morning croissant at the bakery, the new monthly ticket for the subway or even the use of public toilets – even without cash. Technological progress, the smartphone revolution and also our user behaviour made this evolution in payments possible. “Digital payments” have become part of our progressive society. However, the aspect of not having money physically tangible sometimes entails interesting and also unwanted aspects.

Society in upheaval

Like Dostoevsky, we also live in a time of extreme social, economic and political upheaval. An age in which exponential technology developments, industries and business models are changing radically and countries competing for dominance in areas such as artificial intelligence. It is a time when transformation is the new normality and an agile corporate culture is the key to success. In these times, for many it became clear that, “Everything that can be digitized will be digitized.” And thus the question inevitably arises whether this also applies to the first “Instant Payment” solution humans invented, one of the earliest and most sustainable achievements of civilization – cash.

Germans love affair with cash

If we look at Germany, cash is still one of the most popular payment methods and – culturally speaking – will probably remain for quite some time to come. According to a survey by the Bundesbank, 88 percent of German citizens continue to regard cash as their preferred means of payment. This cultural imprint can certainly also be traced back to modern history and the personal experiences of the Germans with their money. Beginning with the traumatic experience of hyperinflation during the Great Depression of 1923 and the resulting deep-rooted German understanding of the importance of a central bank independent from politics.

A painful experience, which states even today – like Venezuela – live through again and again and whose causes are often identical. In Reinhard and Rogoff’s bestseller book “This time is different”, this phenomenon is brilliantly explained using an analysis of 800 years of international economic history.

The positive image of (cash) money in Germany was impressively advanced after the end of the 2nd World War. From the currency reform of 1948 and the beginning of the economic miracle with 40 D-Mark, which every German was allowed to hold physically in his hands, to the 100 D-Mark welcome money at the reunification in 1989. These personal experiences paired with a consistently brillant independent work by the German Bundesbank – which always gave the population the feeling of having a strong, stable and secure own currency – are all German experiences, which were literally “obvious” and shaped the cultural reference of the country and its citizens.

The current freedom of our payment options is certainly good, as long as we consumers are free to decide which means of payment we pay with. Discussions about a possible restriction of citizens’ freedom of choice, for example through the abolition of cash, regularly call on intellectuals to take a warning position. The poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger, for example, has the following opinion on the subject of “restriction”: “Those who abolish cash abolish freedom”. Also former Deutsche Bundesbank board member Carl-Ludwig Thiele said at a conference in 2015: “Abolishing cash would hurt consumer sovereignty — the free choice of citizens about their payment instruments“ and “Government agencies do not have the right to tell citizens how they should pay.”

Having “physical power of disposal” over money, i.e. holding the banknote in one’s hands, immediately establishes a much stronger relationship for the value of something than a number on a display. More than ten years ago, the US scientists Raghubir and Srivastava in their essay for the “Journal if Experimental Psychology: Applied” described that the degree of abstraction often poses a problem when it comes to means of payment. They found a correlation between the indebtedness of individuals and the use of credit cards.

In Germany, the trend towards digital payment became apparent for the first time last year. In this period consumers in the stationary retail sector spent more money on checking and credit cards than in cash, as the trade research institute EHI recently announced.

Source: Deutsche Bundesbank

However, this does not mean that customers will soon only pay by card or smartphone, the experts emphasized at the same time. Three-quarters of all retail purchases continue to be settled in cash. When it comes to the highly sensitive issue of “money”, many consumers continue to find it difficult to trust the comprehensive healing promises of an omnipresent digital world.

In order to ensure that cash and book money continue to be equally available, the players involved in the cash cycle, such as CIT companies like Prosegur, ATM operators like IC-Cash, banks like Bankhaus August Lenz et al., are working concentrated to make the provision of cash at all locations even more efficient and cost-effective. Both the providers of cash solutions and those of digital solutions experiment therefore with the latest blockchain and AI technologies to reach the before mentioned goals.

Technological vulnerability and fall-back option

Especially in extreme scenarios, such as catastrophes or other failures of a digital infrastructure due to cyberattacks, natural events or simply technical failure, it becomes clear how cash – by its very nature – proves to be actually the most robust payment method. Ultimately, it is not tied to electricity, digital infrastructures, passwords or other technical features – it is simply available. An interesting recent anecdote occurred in Sweden, which is one of the most advanced countries in cashless payment. A country where even the traditional church collection is now equipped with a card reader. At the Bråvalla music festival 2014, for example, the memory chips on the admission tickets went on strike. Thousands of thirsty fans sat on dry land and had to write out promissory notes for their drinks by hand. An experience that can be observed again and again when paying at the checkout, when the magnetic stripe of a card or simply the card reader does not work and the views of the people standing around in the queue are impatiently looking at the payer and trying to catch a glimpse of the name on the card of the supposedly non-solvent unlucky fellow.

Data Protection Best Practice

In an interview with Rheinische Post in February 2017, Klaus Müller, head of the Federal Association of Consumer Groups (Bundesverband der Verbraucherzentralen), said “Cash is data protection in practice”. He added: “Unbarred figures leave traces of data that can be used commercially to create a consumer profile. This data may be illegally “fished” by third parties.” Now Müller points to nothing new here and opponents of cash, use the argumentation to underline that the supposed anonymity of cash can be used for illegal business and transactions and that the suppression of cash stands above the protection of privacy. But since the first publication of the interview, the introduction of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the recently imposed $5 billion fine against Facebook for the Cambridge Analytica scandal and similar events, the sensitivity of the European population with regard to data protection and privacy has grown substantially.


Financial privacy


In the closing sentence of his speech at the Cash Symposium 2018 of the Deutsche Bundesbank, the former judge of the German Federal Constitutional Court, Prof. Dr. Udo Di Fabio, underlined the probably most important point in the current discussion about cash. He said that in principle it is “not to be underestimated” that every citizen has the souvereignity of the free disposal of his money – of his personal “exchangeable assets”. He further added that this is particularly true when “financial privacy” is considered legally imperative. In other words, a society whose entire assets would be managed in digital form only, could also exercise only limited individual control over its money and would have to ask itself, “whether the state would be entitled via its central bank to carry out a controlled devaluation through negative interest rates, accounting discounts or fees on credit balances”. Prof. Di Fabio further points out that this would then not only be a property encroachment, but as a result possibly also the imposition of a special levy, which is permitted in the German legal system only under narrow conditions.

For young Fjodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky the conversion to book money in the Siberian prison would have meant the withdrawal of his individual sovereignity over money, so that he would not have had any more the fortune of using cash for the exchange of goods and other things. He describes the quintessence of this situation as follows: The suffering of prisoners who don’t have money is 10 times greater.

Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the intellectual serious discussions about cash and civil liberty rights would delight Dostoyevsky, with his experiences in an unfree society.


Our open and liberal society is characterised by the fact that we have and continue the discussion about “Coined Liberty 2.0” at this level.