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Fears of a cashless society amid digital banking boom

Technology is leaving some people behind when it comes to financial transactions.

  • Finance
  • Read Time: 5 mins

Seniors fear losing access to cash as bill payments, shopping and other transactions increasingly become digital. 

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s plan to do away with cheque payments by 2030 and recent moves by two banks to open “cashless” branches in capital cities have created concern among people who prefer to pay with notes and coins rather than plastic cards or internet-based transactions. 

National Seniors Chief Operating Officer Chris Grice says some older Australians worry that it will soon be impossible to access cash – or that it will be available only through third-party ATMs that charge transaction fees. 

He also points out that digital transactions carry risks – as demonstrated by a recent day-long outage of online systems that left many bank customers unable to access their funds.

“There’s a lot of work that has to be done in terms of educating senior Australians to operate their smart phones,” Mr Grice recently told Channel Nine’s Today show

He said even people who have become used to making payments via online banking and smart phones have a need to carry cash – especially in regional Australia. 

“Some of these regional communities in particular have challenges around internet access," Mr Grice said. 

“If you’re a grey nomad travelling the length and breadth of the country and you pull into a regional town [and are] trying to pay for fuel, you have to have cash with you.”

The Australian Banking Association (ABA) has defended the shift towards digital transactions, saying it is “consumer led”. 

“Australians have always been early adopters of technology. But COVID-19 health restrictions accelerated this existing digital trend, resulting in even larger numbers of Australian households and businesses moving online,” ABA chief executive Anna Bligh said in the foreword to the Bank On It: Customer Trends 2023 report released in June. 

“Once online, many customers have found the accessibility and the 24/7 availability of digital banking a very convenient way to bank.” 

Ms Bligh said 98.9% of all bank transactions are digital and customers “report the highest satisfaction using this channel”. 

“Australians are now among the world’s top users of cashless payments, exceeding the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Germany,” she said. 

Ms Bligh noted that 98% of branch closures “have occurred within three kilometres of another branch of the same bank or one of 3,540 face-to-face Bank@Post locations across the country”. 

Mr Grice said: “While National Seniors acknowledges the growth in digital banking, there are still many people, including seniors and people with disabilities, who are not using digital banking and others who will need assistance to perform transactions as they get older.” 

He also noted that a national supermarket chain abandoned a trial of cashless stores in 2021 after pushback from customers. 

At the time, National Seniors Chief Advocate Ian Henschke called the trial “a form of ageism” that disadvantaged older people.

“These are people who grew up with cash and they feel comfortable with cash, it is what they want,” he said.

Related story: Today

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