One of the most hotly debated financial concepts right now is the idea of the cashless society. Some believe that a world entirely run on digital currencies, with no physical cash, is not only desirable and but also inevitable. Others, like Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff, talk not of a cashless, but simply of a society in which there is “less cash” and more digital transactions. Just this week experts have variously hailed the advent of the cashless society as utopian, a recipe for crippling personal debt and a surefire way of creating a technological apartheid between the young and the wealthy and the old and the poor. Either way, we are in the midst of what is often described as a “war on cash”. In India, for instance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, last year drove forward an abrupt “demonetisation”, which involved the removal of high value notes from circulation, and the promotion of digital banking. Here in the UK, chief economist of the Bank of England Andrew Haldane proposed that a cashless society might allow easier management of the economy. But is the future really cashless? And what would that actually mean? Here’s our guide to ten things you need to know about the future of cash.

1. The revolution is already here

The disappearance of cash has already been so rapid it’s almost bewildering. A couple of years ago we were taken aback by our ability to pass a contactless card over a screen and pay for our groceries. Now, everything seems to be going digital. Schools are transitioning from accepting lunch payments of coins in envelopes to digital methods. We can pay for parking tickets by phone. The Church of England is trialling a system that enables its congregations to donate via contactless. There are even cafes in London that don’t take cash. According to Payments UK, cash will be overtaken by card as the UK’s most popular payment method next year, and in 10 years only 21% of our payments will be in cash.

David Birch, author of Beyond Babylon, Before Bitcoin: From Money We Understand To Money That Understands Us, certainly believes that we are heading towards a mostly cashless society. “Author William Gibson described, in Neuromancer, a society in which money wasn’t actually illegal, it was just nobody did anything legal with it. I think that’s sort of where we’re headed. You know cash to a large extent has already vanished from middle class society. If you look at the figures, we’re a debit card using nation by and large, and wouldn’t really care if we never saw cash from one weekend till the next.”

2. The guys with the big money like it already

Brett Scott, author of The Heretic’s Guide To Global Finance: Hacking The Future of Money, points out that the people who tend to push propaganda for a cashless system are often payment companies, banks and financial technology organisations who would stand to benefit or gain power in such a future. “They’re pushing their own interests and saying this is inevitable,” he says. Frequently, he believes, these interested parties are engineering and exacerbating public irritation around cash. “There’s this whole story that ‘this is what consumers want’, but the banks and the financial technology companies are the ones who really want it because it helps them to save costs. They find various ways to make people want it as well. They make every effort to make the alternative not convenient, which then makes people choose the other one.”

3. The cashless society gives banks the control.

“Cashless”, says Brett Scott, is a bad way of describing the digital future, since it doesn’t tell you what it is, just what it is not. He argues that really we should be calling it “Ask-the-bank-permission-to-pay-society”. “The cashless society,” he says, “is a society where you’re granting even more power to banks than they previously have had.”

4.Sweden and India are examples of how, or how not, to do it

Sweden is often talked of as the first country to go cashless. Some 900 of Sweden’s 1,600 bank branches no longer keep cash on hand or take cash deposits. Many no longer have ATMs. In 2015 cash transactions made up only 2% of the all payments in Sweden. The government has even proposed the creation of its own digital currency, the e-krona.

Many look to Sweden, as a paragon of how to make the transition. Contrast this with India, where a full-on “war on cash” was instigated last year in the form of a demonetisation programme, which revolved around removal of the highest denomination notes (86% of the supply) from circulation and promotion of digital banking. All this took place in the name of fighting corruption and black money. The result, so far, has not been positive. Though digital transaction volumes peaked in December, they fell off in the early months of this year — and reports claim it failed to cure India's black money problem.

5.The future may be one of many types of money

Will the future belong to Bitcoin? Or some yet to be created single global digital currency? David Birch, author of Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin is among those who believes this is unlikely. Rather, what he imagines, will evolve is a system in which there are a vast array of currencies. He describes a world in which we all, as has already developed on social media, belong to different clans, according to our values and identities, and each clan has a different money.

6.Meanwhile, digital payment is already driving up debt

Cash, and the inconveniences it brings, have been one of the barriers to our profligate spending, making it less easy just to impulse buy. Last month, a Bank of England report described how contactless card and online payment, are fuelling a boom in debt.

That doesn’t, however, mean we won’t learn to control our contactless impulses. As David Birch, author of Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin, and an advocate for a future in which payment transactions take place, "frictionlessly", on mobile phones, points out, there are possibilities that an app-based digital system could ultimately result in greater control of spending. “If you sit down at the end of the month and ask where did my money go, and you’ve got it in an app and you can see exactly where the money went, then that helps.”

7. Some believe without cash there would be less crime

Harvard economist, Kenneth Rogoff, had a huge impact on the cash debate when he put forward a version of this argument in his book, The Curse Of Cash. "Cash,” Rogoff has said, “plays a big role in crime... because it's basically government-licensed, anonymous currency. It has very high liquidity, low transaction costs. You can spend cash anywhere."

But, is crime justification enough for removing from circulation something that is a public utility used by all? And, in any case, digital systems are not crime free – as is evidenced by the rise of online fraud, phishing, blackmail and other activities.

8. The poor, the old, the illiterate and the alternative could be further marginalised

Among those often talked about as endangered by the death of cash are buskers, the homeless, and the old. However, some of those groups are already starting to go cashless. Big Issue sellers, beggars and buskers, are already adopting, in some locations, contactless payment devices, or displaying “QR” codes which enable payment to them by mobile app. “I was in Oslo a couple of weeks ago,” says David Birch. “The people begging on the streets had QR codes. I’ve got a picture of me on the London Underground with a busker who took contactless.”

This doesn’t mean, however, that there won’t be people who will be marginalised by the technology and the disappearance of cash. As Brett Scott, has written: “The shadow economy is not just ‘poor’ people. It’s potentially anybody who hasn’t internalised the correct state-corporate narrative of normality... The future presented by self-styled innovation gurus has no scope for flexible, unpredictable or invisible people.”

Others echo his fear. Professor Kevin Dowd, of Durham University, for instance notes: “A large number of [these] people – the destitute, the infirm and the elderly – would not so much be disempowered but devastated by the abolition of cash."

9. Death of cash, death of privacy

The biggest threat to all of us is the threat to our privacy, since a cashless society brings with it the elimination of a transaction between two people - the buyer and seller - which was fundamentally private. Suddenly, we are potentially in a Big Brother/Big Data state. Surveillance of your every financial transaction becomes easier. As Brett Scott puts it: “People will argue, oh well you’ve got nothing to lose if you’ve got nothing to hide. But there's the argument that privacy is a human right. People shouldn’t have to feel like they’re small children, constantly being watched. Adults in society should at least be able to have the belief that they can be autonomous and engage in deals with each other without having to ask for permission from some third party payments provider.”

10. The hybrid option

Why not hold on to cash alongside digital? Essentially this is the system we already have, and, argues Brett Scott, one we should fight to maintain. “If you’re interested in optionality and systems that are resilient,” he says, “you really should be maintaining numerous types of payment systems - especially if you want to keep the power of the banking sector itself in check. If you have a system where money can’t exist outside the banking system, which is basically what a cashless society is, banks have even more power. Right now cash provides a check on the power of banks, even if it’s quite a small one.”