A scary reminder of our reliance on big banks

—This scary new ad from Current got Craig Redmond thinking about how Covid has transformed our relationship with cash money (or has it?)—

Outside one of our downtown neighbourhood liquor stores stands the hulking figure of a man who I call the Gentleman Panhandler.

He has stood in the same spot for years, and I’ve noticed that his speech has deteriorated and he seems increasingly frail. But every day, rain or shine, he stoically leans on a crutch with one hand and holds out a ball cap with the other, welcoming every passerby with a warm “hello” and a genuine “‘have a great day,” whether they make a deposit into his hat or not.

He’s like the Walmart Greeter of Vancouver’s Lower West End.

I typically give him the spare change from my hootch purchase, but on this day, realized that I no longer pay with cash. What to do?

I had a $20 that has been burning a hole in my wallet for two years, but that amount of charity seemed a tad steep for a warily money-conscious, sole-breadwinning freelancer like myself.

So, I bought him a bottle of water instead, which he accepted with his usual effusive gratitude and charm, and in return I wished him warmth and wellness, as I always have.

As I walked away, however, I was suddenly struck by how Covid has utterly transformed our socio-economic reality on a global scale.

And I wondered how panhandling can continue without any bucks, bones, clams, coins, cheddar, or dough in circulation.

And what of every other business that depends on the ancient trading platform of monetary exchange? What of vending machine owners, parking meter collectors, Brink’s Truck security guards, and money launderers? What will happen to all of them?

Well, despite our mass migration to an electronic transactional norm, paper money apparently isn’t going away.

According to this spring story from The Economist (paywalled), interest in cold hard currency has been spiking. So, despite its lapsed use as a means of imbursement, people are emptying ATMs in droves. (And storing their cash stash under mattresses, one can only presume.)

I don’t know about you, but I have revelled in a cashless world. And seeing this spot for the mobile bank app Current, I was tormentingly reminded of the horror of actual, real money.

It shows the nightmare that can ensue when your bank holds your paycheque for a typical two days and you can’t extract your loot. Granted, it leans into a timely Halloween theme, but in my mind, the thought of being held hostage by those old school financial structures is one scenario that could inspire night terrors any time of the year.

Alas, I’m not sure what the future holds for the traditional monetary world, but this fun little spot has convinced me of one thing: That aging $20 gathering moss in my wallet is finally going to go where it belongs. To the Gentleman Panhandler, who has earned it a million-fold over.