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Defiant cash-only pub and bakery go against cashless trend: 'Don't like it? I don't care'

With card and contactless payments being the norm these days, there are few places bucking the trend and standing their ground.

Aussies can pay for almost anything with their card these days, but there are few small businesses that will refuse that piece of plastic. In these places, you need cold, hard cash to get by and they don't care that they're going against the rest of the country.

The move towards a cashless society has seen hundreds of bank branches forced to close over the last year - 424 in the 12 months to June - and the banks say it's because people are not coming in. But Letitia Thomas and Sam James told Yahoo Finance that cash is king at their businesses and they've decided to only accept physical money from customers.

"A lot of people are coming in from out of town and saying, 'Thank God you're cash-only we just like to use cash," Thomas said.

Sam James who runs a cash-only pub in Western Australia next to a bakery with a cash only sign
Sam James runs a cash-only pub in Western Australia while Letitia Thomas' NSW bakery has only ever accepted cash since it was launched in the early 2010s. (Source: Facebook)

Are you a small business that has remained cash only? Email stew.perrie@yahooinc.com

Cash advocates refusing to accept card

Thomas runs the Smokey Cape Supabake bakery in South West Rocks on the NSW North Coast, which has been open for more than 12 years. It has never accepted anything other than cash, which certainly goes against the grain.

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Australia has overtaken the likes of the UK, the US, France and Germany to become one of the world’s biggest users of cashless payments, with around 98.9 per cent of all bank transactions done online, according to the Australian Banking Association. The number of payment cards that have been added to mobile phone wallets has jumped from just two million in 2018 to 15.3 million in 2022.

Thomas' bakery can be found in the town's shopping centre and is nestled right next to Coles. Some might try to do everything they can to compete with a supermarket, but Thomas said she's happy with her system.

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"We don't have those extra fees [associated with card purchases]," she told Yahoo Finance. "The girls are serving customers quicker as well."

She revealed that while some customers praise her cash-only system, others aren't as kind.

"My staff were abused a lot by people coming from the cities," she said. "Like, 'Why won't you take EFTPOS, it's ridiculous' and they get the shits.

"So we just put a sign up that said please just accept our decision to be cash only."

She said cash is better for her customers, who are traditionally older and only buy a few bread rolls each.

Blackouts or system issues that render some businesses powerless have no impact on Thomas.

'I don't care if they don't like it'

Thomas isn't the only one who is bucking the cashless trend.

Sam James has been running the King River Tavern in Albany, Western Australia for more than two decades. It was only when she shut down the restaurant part of the pub in 2005 that she realised how much money she was spending on her EFTPOS machine.

So, she switched to being a cash-only pub and hasn't questioned that decision ever since.

"I just find it easy," she told Yahoo Finance. "I had faith in my way to run my business the way I see fit. And I don't judge myself, I know that it's right for me.

"And if people don't like it, they can not come here, I don't really care."

There's an ATM in the pub and James said that has helped as customers rarely have an excuse.

Like Thomas, some haven't reacted well to the cash-only system, but James has noticed the tide turning.

"Even though there's still a few people that say, 'Oh, that's ridiculous' ... the majority are just like, 'That's great, finally I've got somewhere to spend my cash'," she said.

"I hear lots of stories of places where people have been and the system has fallen down and they're the only lucky ones that have cash."

In the few instances people don't have cash on them, nearly all bring it the next day to pay for their drinks, she said.

Businesses are still begging for cash

While some small businesses might not be able to rely solely on cash purchases, they give discounts to those who use physical money.

Offers of up to 50 per cent off for customers using cash have been posted online, others offer a free drink.

But the reality is Aussies aren't carrying as much cash as they used to.

Signs showing businesses giving discounts if customers use cash
Businesses all across Australia encourage customers to pay with cash and will give them a discount if they do so. (Source: Facebook)

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) revealed last year that 72 per cent of Aussies were classed as low-cash users in 2022, meaning they used physical money for 20 per cent or less of their transactions.

Back in 2019, low-cash users made up only 50 per cent of people in the country.

Cash Welcome founder Jason Bryce told Yahoo Finance that physical currency is still very important in regions across Australia.

"Some people rely on cash, trust cash, they do their budgeting with cash, they take their money out on payday or pension day, and that's their money for the fortnight," he said.

"And for those people, they need to just be able to feel like they're not going to lose that ability."

Recent data from the RBA has indicated cash has been making a comeback.

There were close to 30.86 million ATM cash withdrawals in February, which was 166,400 more than in January and nearly 1.1 million more compared to February last year. Aussies are also withdrawing more, with an average amount of $308 in February compared to $292 in the same month in 2023.

"Australians clearly want to access and use cash," Bryce said. "Banks can no longer claim that Australians don't want access to physical currency as an excuse for closing branches and ATMs.

"Only cash is reliable, private and surcharge-free. Without cash as a payment option, there is no competitive pressure on the banks to rein in their rising fees."

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What you need to know about the use of cash in Australia

  • Fewer people are using cash due to the convenience of paying with phones, watches and cards.

  • There isn’t a shortage of cash-withdrawal points, with around 20,000 ATMs plus supermarkets to collect from.

  • There’s about $100 billion in cash floating around Australia - or 2 billion notes

  • The government has not indicated cash will be taken out of circulation

  • The Big Four banks have all ruled out going cashless.

  • Average cash withdrawal has increased from $180 to $290.

  • RBA: ATM withdrawals dropped from 77.9 million in December 2008 to 29.7 million in June 2023.

  • Finder survey: 13 per cent of Aussies never use cash, 44 per cent use it once a week, and 42 per cent once a month or less.