System failures can happen, but the breadth of the repercussions depend on the diversity of accessible services. On June 1st, Visa experienced a major system breakdown across Europe, giving people a sneak-peak into what the world could look like if cash were no longer an accepted payment method.
Consumers we unable to make purchases or settle their bills, and merchants found themselves with endless lines, impatient customers and abandoned goods. Millions of people were affected by the failure and the only ones that came out of it unscathed, are those that have a habit of carrying cash, completing their daily shopping undisturbed.
But what became most evident from this incident is how dependent today’s society is on electronic payments, greatly provided by large credit card companies such as Visa and MasterCard. When card payments don’t function properly, the entire economy comes to a halt, proving that the payments landscape is still largely unprepared for a crisis. As the author of The Heretic's Guide to Global Finance, Brett Scott, pointed out on Twitter: “There's a little glitch in the romantic tales told about a future cashless society: As soon as #Visa goes down, the economy grinds to a halt. We're seeing a little preview right now”
Visa’s CEO publicly apologized for the inconvenience and reassured its customers that the failure was not linked to a breach or a hack.