Will Cash Still Be King In A Post-Pandemic World?

Keeping the cash flowing when the ink won’t

In his prolific career as a tattoo artist, Diego Mannino has seen the industry undergo many changes. 

Young main receiving a tattoo from a professional artist
Once regarded as taboo, tattooing is now mainstream.AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

“I came up in tattooing at a time when it was still considered kind of taboo and still part of the outlaw community,” he shared in an interview with the podcast series Money Memories. “Now it’s on TV, and everyone has one.” Mannino got his start in the industry in San Francisco in the early 90s, before eventually relocating to New York City to join the legendary Daredevil Tattoo. Today, he is widely sought after for his unique, Japanese-style illustrations.

The gradual acceptance of tattooing into the mainstream community was one seismic shift that Mannino experienced in his career. COVID-19 was another. Even during boom years, artists typically expected to take home roughly 50 – 70% of their pay, depending on the studio, according to Inside Out. Many artists rely on cash-based tips to supplant their income. More importantly – tattoo artists do not have the luxury of being able to work remotely. Getting inked requires human interaction.

“I haven’t worked in maybe the last two months,” Mannino shared with Money Memories. “With how the pandemic is going in Los Angeles, it’s not safe. I’m just staying put and waiting until I get the vaccine.”

For many, remote work is not an option

Much has been written about the future of work in the post-pandemic world. These pieces tend to target individuals who can perform their roles and responsibilities behind a computer screen, from the comforts of their own homes. However, a significant portion of the population has been forced to fundamentally rethink how to run their businesses. 

Modern open plan office with hot desks.
Office of the future?GETTY

Small businesses in particular have been strongly affected – a report by the National Institute of Health estimates that, “The number of active business owners in the United States plummeted by 3.3 million or 22% over the crucial 2‐month window from February to April 2020.” This represents the largest decline on record. A large portion accepted cash payments, before COVID and the effort to limit the spread of disease upended this.

Fintech in a post-pandemic world

We have already witnessed how the pandemic has helped accelerate the pace of digital adoption in certain sectors. Mobile payments in emerging markets, particularly in Africa, have boomed since last spring. This offers the question – what kind of role can the fintech industry play in the post pandemic world? 

How have people used cash in the pandemic?

One clear example is in payments. According to data from SquareSQ, between March 1 and April 23 of 2020, the percentage of sellers on the platform who had converted to cashless skyrocketed from 8% to 31%. The business categories that saw the biggest shift to were beauty and personal care, charities and education, and leisure and entertainment. 

Benjamin Franklin With Worried and Concerned Expression Wearing Medical Face Mask On One Hundred Dollar Bill
Will cash still be king post-COVID?GETTY

More significantly, card usage has accelerated for smaller purchase sizes. Per Square, “Prior to COVID-19, it took four years for the share of card usage in the U.S. to rise nine percentage points, from 54% to 63%. But in just one month during the COVID-19 pandemic, card usage for $10 to $20 transactions in the U.S. increased two percentage points, from 71% card on April 1 to 73% card on April 29. By comparison, it previously took five months for the share of card payments to rise two percentage points.”

Glimpse into the future

Last week Stripe, a San-Francisco based fintech, reached a valuation of $95 billion. After raising $600 million in Series G capital, it is now the world’s most valuable startup. Stripe specializes in providing payment processing software and APIs for e-commerce websites and mobile applications. Since first raising capital in 2010, the company has gone from strength to strength. It has distinguished itself from competitors due to its ease of use and ability to seamlessly integrate payments into an online service. Recently, Stripe set its sights on global expansion with the acquisition of the Nigerian-based Paystack.

Salon Viva Technology 2018, Startup connect : Day One
John Collison, co-founder and president of Stripe.GETTY IMAGES

“People who never dreamt of using the internet to see the doctor or buy groceries are now doing so out of necessity. And businesses that deferred moving online or had no reason to operate online have made the leap practically overnight,” said John Collison, president and co-founder of Stripe, in a statement. 

For now, virtual tattooing remains a distant dream. However, if the trend towards digital payments continues, small business owners and artists like Mannino can hope to improve their bottom lines.

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