U.S. cash currency
Remember cash? Millennials predicted we were heading for a cashless society. They were right. Getty Images/Karen Bleier

Millennials, it turns out, are quite good at making predictions. Visa’s 2012 Connecting with the Millennials report revealed that eight out of ten millennials interviewed saw a not-too-distant world where they could do all of their shopping and pay their bills online, and 73 percent thought this would be done via smartphone.

Just five years later , these predictions are becoming reality — and millennials are leading the charge. Banks are being forced to advance technologically due to competition from tech-savvy challenger banks, and fintech players which are providing a range of digital banking and cashless payment options.

Millennials have a love-hate relationships with traditional banks. In a recent Viacom survey, 33 percent of millennial respondents predicted that within the next 5 years, they would not need to use traditional banks, and 73 percent stated they would be more interested in using financial services from tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Paypal or Square than their existing bank.

However, while mobile, cashless and online banking may resonate with millennials, it does come with some hidden risks. So how can millennials take full advantage of new banking and payment technology, while keeping themselves safe at the same time?

Millennials: The cashless vanguard

In Sweden, South Korea and a number of Eastern European countries, cashless societies are emerging much faster than seen in western Europe and the U.S. However, even in the U.S, tech-savvy millennials have been the quickest adopters of cashless payment systems.

ETA’s Transactions Trends survey reveals that only 21 percent of American respondents aged 23 -34 continue using cash for the majority of their purchases — an 18 percent drop since the same survey was undertaken five years ago. To put this into perspective, Generation X (aged 35 – 54) recorded only a two-point drop, and Baby Boomers and older saw an average six-point drop in regular cash users.

What’s more, 41 percent of millennials reported having made purchases with their smartphones and more than half of millennials have already used alternative payment services such as Venmo or PayPal for online payments and to transfer and receive funds. However, a recent report by ETA suggests that adoption of mobile payments and funds transfer systems remains hampered by poor UX and security concerns.

Millennials are quite right to worry about some aspects of being a cashless society.

The hidden risks of going cashless

Millennials are much more detached from their finances than their parent’s generation. While older generations learned to balance their accounts to make ends meet, most millennials have enjoyed digital banking and overdrafts since they first began earning.

Consequently, a recent study by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that millennials are the hardest hit by bank overdraft fees, with one in ten saying they are forced into overdraft at least ten times per year.

As the Netflix generation, millennials have more subscriptions and recurring payments than other age demographics. While recurring payments are convenient, and allow busy millennials to enjoy services without needing to remember different payment dates for various services, for a generation which is already struggling to stick within their financial limits, these type of payments — which can quickly add up to large monthly amounts — can be risky.

While many cashless systems have embedded security functions — like fingerprint IDs for Apple Pay — as technology advances, so do criminals’ playbooks. According to a new report by BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, millennials are more likely to be scammed than older generations, because they consider themselves to be “low risk” for digital theft, make more impulse buys and more purchases online.

As our finances and transactions become more digitalized, hackers and thieves will only become more active in this space, and the risk is not just losing some cash, it is having our whole identities stolen. This is why security is becoming a major focus for fintech companies.

How can millennials reduce risk?

Luckily for millennials, a number of new fintech players and challenger banks are designing services to cover their backs, and keep their finances more secure in the new digital landscape.

Robo-advisors like Mint allow users to manage their finances in real time, and will send notifications to help Millennials keep track of their spending. Budgeting tools like Fudget and Goodbudget allow users to make monthly budgets, and keep track of exactly how much they are spending on hidden extras like subscriptions.

Changes in legislation following the great recession of 2008 opened the doors to new challenger banks, and over the last couple of years we have seen new players like N26, Tandem and atom gain in popularity, especially with younger users. These banks are pushing innovation in banking, are designed for the digital — and mobile — generation and offer a wider range of loans, accounts and overdraft policies to suit users’ spending habits.

When it comes to security, millennials need to realize that they are at risk, and take steps to prevent potential fraud and identity theft.

Using only sites with trusted payment services is a good start, but they should also consider services which have integrated security functions like biometrics, two-factor authentication, and tokenization and conceal vital information from snooping eyes. A number of payment gateways like Stripe, Braintree and Google Pay are also available, which provide millennials with convenience technologies to simplify the entire payment process.

While there are still risks involved from skilled hackers, taking extra measures reduces the chance of having your account hacked or your identity stolen.

Millennials account for more than a quarter of the total population of the European union and 27 percent of the American population and are set to become the highest-earning generation in history by 2025. With this in mind, it makes sense that this tech savvy demographic be the guinea pigs for the biggest financial shift in history.

As with any change there will be speed bumps, but with the help of the booming fintech industry, many millennials could soon find themselves in a much more secure, and stable financial situation than they are today.

Lucas D. Jankowiak is CEO of SecurionPay.com, an online and mobile payment gateway.