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Cashless ‘horror’ these Aussies face as banks and ATMs close: 'Impending doom'

Jan Harman says cash is an essential part of her everyday life and she’s worried what a cashless society will mean.

Older Aussies living in regional areas say they are feeling “a sense of impending doom” as the country moves towards cashless transactions. Some fear they are being left behind.

Jan Harman lives in Kapunda, a rural town near the Barossa Valley in South Australia, and said cash is essential to her everyday life. She uses cash to pay for support from a cleaner and gardener, as well as to use the community bus, attend a local art group and buy from the local op shop - all of which do not accept card payments.

The 81-year-old retiree told Yahoo Finance she is becoming increasingly concerned about the move towards a cashless society, particularly as her access to cash dwindles.

Jan Harman and image of someone withdrawing cash from ATM. Cashless concerns.
Senior and regional Australians like Jan Harman are worried about the shift to a cashless society. (Source: Supplied/Getty)

Are you struggling with access to cash? Contact tamika.seeto@yahooinc.com

“When I first came here, which was almost 30 years ago now, there were three banks - ANZ, BankSA, NAB and through the post office, you had access to Commonwealth Bank. We’re now down to none,” Harman said.

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“Similarly with ATMs. There were several places, including the supermarket, that had an ATM. Now there are no ATMs on the street.”

With the nearest bank now a 30 minute drive away, Harman said she relies on Australia Post to withdraw cash. But she says the post office is “always busy”, with many people often heading there to pay their bills.

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The only other cash withdrawal options in town are the local IGA, which allows customers to withdraw up to $50, and private ATMs located in the local pub and hotel, which charge fees.

All of the Big Four banks - Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ and NAB - have ruled out going cashless. However, hundreds of bank branches and ATMs have been closing across the country. Supermarkets Coles and Woolworths have also reduced the amount of cash that customers can withdraw.

A total of 424 bank branches - or 11 per cent of Australia’s overall branches - closed in the 12 months to June 2023, according to APRA data. This included 122 branches located in regional and remote areas. A further 718 ATMs were closed or removed during this time.

Bank closures are putting pressure on Australia Post’s Bank@Post outlets, with the postal service revealing it was spending about $4,000 a week to fly cash out to Coober Pedy, a regional mining town in South Australia where the nearest bank is more than 500 kilometres away.

Cash brings ‘sense of community’

Harman believes cash is essential for older Australians and those living in regional areas. She said she had been met with “looks of horror” and a “sense of impending doom” from her peers when she had discussed the move towards cashless payments with them.

“I don’t know how people are going to be able to survive without having a small amount of cash to spend so they can continue to participate in the life of the community,” Harman said.

“It’s essential to the sense of community and the ability of community groups to fund themselves.”

Harman, who previously did reception work, said she was confident using online banking and used card payments during the pandemic where it was possible.

But she believes she is “the exception” with many of her peers not owning computers or tablets and reluctant to use technology.

Jan Harman and art
Harman says cash is essential to her everyday life, including to participate in her local art group. (Source: Supplied)

Older Aussies relying on cash

Older Aussies are the highest cash users, with a Reserve Bank survey finding nearly one in five people aged 65 and above still predominantly relying on cash for more than 80 per cent of their transactions.

National Seniors CEO Chris Grice noted there were many seniors who would be greatly inconvenienced and experience hardship if cash became more difficult to access or use.

“They are closing branches, they are removing ATMs, even shops are limiting the capability to use cash, it is not helpful in the general sense in supporting older folk as they age,” Grice told Yahoo Finance.

Some older Aussies say they are not tech-savvy, while others are concerned about scams and some simply cannot afford the technology required to do online banking.

“It’s not the case of them [just being] technophobes. If you look at pensioners, for example, [they need] to get the most appropriate smartphone to be able to do transactions online, have an appropriate plan and have the right software in place to keep the baddies out,” Grice said.

Investment needed so Aussies aren’t ‘left behind’

Experts believe Australia will become “functionally cashless” by 2030, due to the increased consumer preference for digital payments.

Behind Baby Boomers, a recent survey found regional Aussies and those on lower-incomes were the most concerned about this shift.

RMIT associate professor of finance Dr Angel Zhong told Yahoo Finance this transition presented a challenge for regional and rural areas due to a lack of infrastructure and slow internet speeds.

“I believe that government and private entities can work together to invest in better internet infrastructure to improve connectivity so that rural areas are not left behind in this inevitable transition,” Zhong said.

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