Rich People’s Problems: For the love of cash


I love cash. Notes, dosh, readies, spondulix, wedge, moolah, bangers and mash, beer vouchers, stash, lolly, loot, bread and dough — I don’t care what you call it. But we are told the love of money is apparently the root of all evil, so allow me to explain my obsession.

Yes, a big stack of cash can do wonders for your state of mind and self-confidence. But it can be corrosive, used in malicious or immoral ways and it has the power to corrupt human behaviour.

I’m well aware that, added to all of this, many of you think I’m vulgar. But I’m not about to flash my wad in a “Loadsamoney” style. I don’t hanker for a wedge of overused knackered old notes, nor the added accoutrement of a sheepskin coat.

What I want is a stack of crisp, never been used, fresh-from-the-bank twenties or fifties. For a little while longer, these denominations have the decency to be made of paper, not polymer. The way they sound, feel and smell is altogether different. You can hear the crispness as they’re counted. They’re so fresh they almost stick together, having to be peeled apart like thinly carved slices of smoked salmon. Run your finger and thumb across one of these delights and you can feel the slight indentations, the quality and intricate printing.

The smell of a new banknote is distinctive. In 2013, a great deal was written about whether Canadian dollars had an aroma of maple syrup in their secret formula. A separate study of US banknotes by the fragrance house Symrise established a chemical complexity comprising aliphatic aldehyde, present in soap and linen, and alkanes, which are found in ink.

UK banknotes tend to possess a more subtle aroma. These smells become corrupted after a note has been in circulation as they pick up traces of human detritus (or cocaine). Dare I suggest that you really can smell new money?

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In the world of old money, this whole conversation is frankly appalling. After all, if you’re an establishment gentleman, you’ll have holes in your pullover and your red trousers will scream wealth and breeding even if your pockets are empty. But if you’ve earned a lot of money yourself, you’ll be less horrified and know exactly what I’m talking about.

Recently, I was taken to Le Caprice by a good friend. We sat at his usual table. How, I wondered, do you go about securing a “usual” table in such an establishment, seemingly without booking? Although I offered, he paid for lunch — with some fresh £50 notes that emerged from his jacket in a small but perfectly formed stack. Our lunch bill was sufficient to justify the extra fifty that was left as a cash tip.

And there you have it. Of course! His favourite table will be available the next time it’s required. Despite the fandango of tech that allows us to pay with phones, watches and swipes, the simplicity of cash has done a job that none of those technological marvels can. The money ends up exactly where you want it to be — in the target’s pocket. 

Strategic bungs like this have an important function. If you’re a cash tipper, you’ll get into bars and nightclubs, to the front of queues and of course to secure your favourite table in a restaurant. Very old fashioned, perhaps, but effective nonetheless.

Yet we are heading towards a cashless society. Perhaps this move away from physical money spells problems at De La Rue, which prints not only the UK’s notes but those ordered by 140 central banks around the world. I am guilty of contributing to the cashless trend. My iPhone is often my credit card. I tap in and out of the Tube or bus and that other well-known form of public transport, a cab. Small businesses say the purest form of exchange, cash, is too expensive to accept. Yet payments giving a percentage to a bank in the sky are more efficient? That’s bonkers.

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The uncertain economic backdrop has further confused our system. ATMs up and down the land are being taken away while bank branches close. No one wants to face up to the realities that a financial system costs money to run. There’s no such thing as “free banking”, nor is there an easy way to hold your cash. Yes, we have protection systems that mean your money is safe up to a certain level — £85,000 per authorised firm.

I am not alone in loving cash. It now accounts for 25 per cent of the average portfolio of wealthy investors, according to recent research by UBS. That’s a far higher share than is recommended, particularly given the low (and often negative) levels of interest achievable on these sums.

Not that this is putting off the wealthy. The research concludes that 60 per cent of wealthy respondents would like to hold even more of their portfolio in cash.

Of course, banks, governments and in particular the internet hate people using cash. They can’t track your expenditure or rinse your data. Raising tax is more difficult, particularly if you’re using cash to pay your cleaner, domestic staff, the person who cleans your car or any tradesmen who might offer a more competitive price should the dangle of a purple or red exchange voucher be offered. It obfuscates in a way never envisaged when invented.

Until they were phased out, I was a particular fan of the paper Lady Godiva, or fiver. I used to collect them as a form of self-taxation, weeding them out from my wallet and siphoning them into a shoebox, along with all the other change weighing down my pockets.

When the box was full, I’d pop down to my local branch of Metro Bank and tip all the shrapnel into their “Magic Money Machine” (this is free to use, even if you’re not a customer) then along with the fivers, transfer everything to my Metro account. With no fees for using your card in Europe, this system is the perfect way to take the sting out of your holiday expenditure.

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The move to polymer notes has turned this into more of a nightmare. Not only are they less satisfying when grouped together, but if kept stuffed in your pocket they have a tendency to spring out at the first opportunity.

I find myself being dragged into the cashless society, and now frequently carry no notes on me whatsoever, relying on cards to purchase my daily bread and pretty much everything else. 

The architects of this digital revolution may have become wealthy enough to afford having a lovely fresh stash of fifties in their pockets at all times to ensure their favourite table is available for lunch. And I’d like to be there to join them.

James Max is a property expert and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax. If you have a problem for James, contact him at richpeoplesproblems@ft.com





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