Nor the quarantine, which changed everything from one day to the next, could stop the Argentine compulsion for cash

The quarantine managed to change everything in Argentina, from one day to the next. He suspended most economic activities, put millions of people into their homes and deprived them of their income. It changed the social life and even the way of greeting each other. He had thousands of people arrested for circulating on the street. He renegotiated contracts and even made some politicians lower their salaries. Suspended soccer and recitals. He sat the ruling party and the opposition at the same table. But he was unable, even in fear of the pandemic, to curb Argentina’s compulsion for cash.

After two weeks of total quarantine, the first serious conflict did not come over food or medicine, but over money. The barrage of social aid found no obstacles of a fiscal nature, but in the way of paying it. The collapse came between the political rush to start paying and the structural weaknesses of the financial system of Argentina, the country that lives in cash.

In vast areas of the suburbs, the low density of ATMs, many businesses that do not accept cards, retirees who used to charge with their DNI without being able to touch their silver for days, and a pressing need for income, were combined.

To these things that are known to occur, those that did not occur were added. There was more exhortation from banks to pay by card, but there was no call from official agencies. The possibility of a conflict in the distribution of cash, or its counterpart, the need to pay by card, did not take place in official messages.

If the president, with good sense, successfully used each microphone to make Argentines stay at home and even tell them how to wash their hands and how to sneeze, why could they not have called for using the debit card to buy online? the supermarket during quarantine? No one warned him about a collapse that was expected and that was hitting the most critical segment: retirees. His strong anger with his officials may extend to the union members of the Banking Association, who are extremely close to the President.

Using cards and other electronic means of payment is recommended for many reasons, since they formalize operations and make payments efficient. But at this juncture, it was also a health need, not a financial one.

Every retiree, pensioner, beneficiary of Universal Child Allowance or any other Anses plan owns a savings bank and the debit card associated with that account, although they do not always know it because they did not explain that they do not need to go to the bank , yes or yes, the day of collection.

On the other hand, quarantine restricts the possibilities of consuming as much as possible. Most of the money tortuously withdrawn from ATMs these days, is usually spent in 3 destinations: food, medicine and payment of services. They can all be covered with a debit card.

It is true that in many neighborhoods and in many shops cards are not accepted. But it is also true that a large part of the cash withdrawn yesterday from the banks will end up in supermarkets and other businesses that do accept them. In the emergency, promoting its use would have freed up tickets and the resources to recharge ATMs for critical areas and customers, particularly those retirees who do not use the card. There are 350,000 of them in Banco Nación alone.

Another common argument against electronic money is that people do not use it because they do not know how to do it and they are also losing certainty. Beyond retirees, Among AUH recipients there are people of all ages who have incorporated the use of social networks and other applications on their cell phones into their daily lives. How many obstacles can you find in learning to use a debit card, an ATM or a bank’s app if access to your money depends on it? Nor was the extensive network used to withdraw cash in supermarkets, pharmacies and other shops, which reaches 17,000 money delivery points throughout the country.

Before the pandemic restrictions appeared, the government had taken a measure aimed at reducing cash in low-income sectors: return 15% of the amount of debit card purchases to retirees and pensioners with the minimum and AUH beneficiaries, a universe of 7 million people. The measure has been in force since March 1 and a dissemination campaign was announced that never existed and that would have collaborated so that today the banks are not crowded with people.

Although the causes intermingle, the compulsion for cash is directly linked to the informality of the Argentine economic system. Technology permanently brings new mechanisms, simpler and safer for users and merchants, but in 40% of the black economy, it is difficult to enter.

Receiving card payments has been mandatory since 2018, but many retailers continue to refuse to accept them. They know that part of their earnings goes through the posnet or QR payment for withholding taxes of all kinds. They prefer the insecurity of accumulating cash. Nor did the government take the opportunity to control the acceptance of electronic payments, as it did with the application of maximum prices.

In a bank they say that some managers of the suburbs, still experienced, yesterday experienced situations that left them amazed. The need to collect, the confusion between calendars and the lack of habit to use the ATM, amid the intention of protecting themselves from the pandemic, created a chaotic panorama. “There are people who pre-registered for the IFE online and showed up to collect; others with the card in hand who did not want to go to the ATM; and others who cannot tell you the last 4 digits of their ID, “he explained.

In some official offices they warn about the main course, which although it does not seem to have arrived yet. The first stage of payment of the Emergency Family Income (IFE) included only those who collect the AUH, already identified by the Anses. Once completed, there are 11 million registered on the Anses website who aspire to collect. That payment has no start date yet.

It is estimated that this number will decrease once it passes through the different sieves and only the correct beneficiaries are included. Mercado Pago and other electronic wallets will be incorporated as a payment option, according to Infobae yesterday, as a way to relieve the banking circuit that has a specific request: pay the IFE in 10 days, one for each DNI termination.

As the plans rush, there are also obvious political crossings. The holder of the Anses, Alejandro Vanoli, pushed and accelerated the payment of the plans in a way that the president of the BCRA, Miguel Pesce, and the public banks did not share.