Cash Is King: The Role Of Financial Infrastructure In Digital Adoption
Author(s) Bhavya Agarwal, Nirupama Kulkarni and S. K. Ritadhi


This paper examines whether a one-time, extensive, but temporary shock to cash supply can affect the adoption of digital payments. We exploit the 2016 demonetization episode in India, which overnight discontinued 86% of cash in circulation. Using novel administrative data from retail debit card transactions, we identify a 12% increase in digital payments in areas adversely affected by the cash shortage, which persisted well after the restoration of cash supply. Examining mechanisms, we find a limited role for social networks and stronger support for learning by doing. Further, information frictions hinder the immediate adoption of digital payments.

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