Cash dependence reveals paradox of Japanese society

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Most small shops in Japan — a country with over 200,000 ATMs — only take cash to avoid high transaction costs. (AFP)
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A notice for payment via PayPay outside a Koguma restaurant in Tokyo. (AFP)
Updated 28 October 2019

Cash dependence reveals paradox of Japanese society

  • YouGov pan-#Arab study finds high awareness of relative size of #Japan's economy
  • Continued reliance on cash said to reflect #Japan's combination of tradition and modernity

LONDON: Many Arabs have an accurate view of the size of Japan’s economy, a recent poll by Arab
News and YouGov has discovered, but many also underestimate the country’s reliance on cash, revealing the paradox that lies at the root of that reliance.
The wide-ranging poll, which asked residents across the MENA region for their views on a host of questions related to Japan, found that awareness of the size of Japan’s economy — the world’s third-largest — was generally high, with 63 percent of respondents identifying it as being in the top five globally.
Awareness is higher among the older generation, with 68 percent of those over the age of 40 placing the country’s economy in the top five, compared to 58 percent of those aged 16 to 24.
Interestingly, the poll’s findings suggest that Arabs who have visited Japan are more likely to misjudge the size of the country’s economy. Only 48 percent of respondents who had previously been to Japan — four percent of all those surveyed — identified the country as having one of the world’s five largest economies.
The poll found that 67 percent of respondents correctly identified Japan as a member of the G20, but only 59 percent recognized Japan as a member of the G7 — a smaller group of the world’s largest economies.
In the latter case, there was a strong divergence between age groups, with 69 percent of those aged over 40 placing Japan in the G7 compared to only 48 percent of those aged 16 to 24.
However, by far the greatest misconception that Arabs have about Japan’s economy is its reliance on cash. Cash is still the most common form of payment in Japan, accounting for four out of every five purchases, but the majority of Arabs did not know this — with only 10 percent of the poll’s respondents identifying cash as the most common form of payment in Japan. By contrast, 46 percent of respondents said credit cards were the prevalent form of payment, and more thought that cryptocurrency was most common — 12 percent — than chose cash.
In many ways, these results are unsurprising. As Anne Beade wrote recently in the Japan Times, the continued dominance of cash payments in Japan sits oddly with its “reputation as a futuristic and innovative nation,” especially given the speed with which other technologically advanced countries have adapted to the cashless society. As Beade notes, 90 percent of transactions in South Korea are now digital.
But Japan’s reliance on cash is also typical of one of the country’s central paradoxes — its combination of tradition and modernity. The reasons for the country’s continued reliance on cash are manifold — from Japan’s low crime rates to the ready availability of ATM machines. But, as Beade makes clear, a significant factor is Japan’s aging population, who are slow to adapt to change. According to data from the CIA World Factbook, almost a third of Japan’s population is over the age of 65. In Saudi Arabia, that figure is just 3.32 percent.
If Japan’s continued dependence on cash illustrates the tension that can exist between its aging population and its futuristic aspects, then there are also examples of the two forming a more harmonious relationship. At the Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport on October 15, Toyota announced its intention to transform into a mobility company with an example of how new technology could help solve the challenges of Japan’s aging population.
Speaking of the island of Hokkaido, in the north of Japan, where railway services catering tothe island’s aging population have shut down, Madali Khalesi, Vice President of Automated Driving at the Toyota Research Institute for Automated Driving Development, advanced self-driving cars as a solution.
“As time goes on you become more elderly, you are feeling less comfortable to drive your own vehicle, and in Japan in many cases, you have to hand in your driving licence,” he said.
“So think about it: You don’t have a mode of transportation publicly, you can’t drive a vehicle, (but that) does not mean something has to give, right? And we believe the technology at least can help support that change.”
Arabs’ misconceptions about Japan’s relationship with cash are widespread but understandable, given the nation’s hi-tech image. But, in bringing to the fore these issues of tradition and modernity, such misconceptions unintentionally shine a light on one of Japan’s most beguiling paradoxes.


A female entrepreneur brings crowdlending to Saudi Arabia

(Photo/Shutterstock)
Updated 17 min 33 sec ago

A female entrepreneur brings crowdlending to Saudi Arabia

  • Shariah-compliant peer-to-peer lending platform called Forus to be launched this year
  • Founder Nosaibah Alrajhi aims to help businesses and small investors in the Kingdom

RIYADH: It is no secret that small businesses struggle with obtaining funds to expand, with one avenue being particularly tricky in the region: Trying to rely on a national bank for help.
While things are improving, they are not doing so quickly enough. These longstanding problems have inspired Nosaibah Alrajhi, a former investment banker, to launch Forus, a Shariah-compliant peer-to-peer lending platform that she hopes can help bolster Saudi Arabia’s economic growth and enrich both business owners and small investors.
“It’s very straightforward: We bring together investors and SMEs (small and medium enterprises). Crowdlending will provide a steadier and safer return than say, investing in stocks or investment funds,” said Alrajhi, who serves as co-founder and chief executive.
“If you compare it to real estate, for example, you need a lot of cash upfront to invest in property, but with P2P (peer-to-peer) lending it provides almost everyone with the opportunity to invest and get a return.”
Having received a special license in July 2019, Forus will launch its platform in early 2020. For investors, it is quick and easy to register: You just need to complete a standard know-your-customer (KYC) process, and you will then be able to lend SR500 ($133) to SR10,000 to whichever companies you choose.
For would-be borrowers, Forus will undertake a credit and risk analysis that usually takes about 10 days.
“We do all the due diligence, and once companies meet our benchmarks, they’re listed on the platform, giving investors — individual and institutional — the opportunity to lend them money,” said Alrajhi. “We call it income investments — investors get their money back, plus fees.”
Companies listed on the online platform are rated according to risk — the bigger the risk, the larger the return for lenders. Companies can borrow up to a maximum of SR2 million.
“Investors can look at the companies’ financial reports, their strategy, their team, their products, as well as specific financial ratios that will help them make their decision,” said Alrajhi.
A company will request to borrow a certain amount, and once this is fully pledged by investors, it will receive the loan. Forus, in turn, earns a small commission. Loans are for six to 48 months.
“Our marketplace is providing investors with diversified alternative options (for) investing, while businesses are empowered with an opportunity to grow and scale,” said Alrajhi.
“We achieve this by minimizing friction, streamlining the customer experience and providing a seamless, secure and transparent platform.”
Alrajhi holds an MBA from Madrid’s IE Business School, where her research led her to spot a gap in the market for a fintech-based, P2P lender in Saudi Arabia.
“If you look at the market today, there’s only a few banks who are willing to lend to SMEs, which banks see as quite high risk,” said Alrajhi. “In Saudi, there are roughly 16,000 SMEs looking for loans.”
Forus uses a murabaha — cost plus financing — structure for its loans, which are not interest-bearing and so are Shariah-compliant.
In English, Shariah-compliant lending will refer to a profit rate rather than an interest rate, although in Arabic there is no such linguistic distinction.
Nevertheless, Forus’s loans are Islamic. “In Saudi, the biggest market is for Shariah-compliant financial services,” said Alrajhi.
She hopes her platform will provide a win-win for investors and SMEs — investors can earn a bigger return on their money, while SMEs can obtain the funds needed to expand their operations and increase profits.
In the longer term, Forus plans to expand to Egypt and Pakistan, but for now Alrajhi’s focus is firmly on her native Saudi Arabia.
“One of the main impacts we aim to have is transparency, which will then enable financial inclusion and help increase GDP (gross domestic product),” she said.
“We’ve talked to so many SMEs, and we found that almost all are facing challenges when it comes to borrowing.”
She leads a team of 10 staff at Forus, and is a female trailblazer in the Kingdom’s male-dominated financial services sector and more broadly in Saudi Arabia, where women constitute less than 25 percent of the workforce.
“Within the next five years, Saudi’s financial sector will look completely different,” said Alrajhi.


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.