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Major cashless reality for millions of Aussies choosing card: 'Less reliable and more expensive'

Card payments are vulnerable to outages and advocates said this is proof Australia needs to keep cash in circulation.

Signs have been popping up at businesses across Australia and advocates believe it's why the country can never truly go cashless. Customers hoping to pay with card are being told "EFTPOS DOWN" or "Card machine not working".

For the 87 per cent of Aussies who prefer paying with a card or a digital wallet like ApplePay, this can present some challenges. Cash advocate and founder of 'Cash Welcome' Jason Bryce told Yahoo Finance that system failures only further highlight the need for physical money.

"Payment systems are failing, it seems to be increasing," he said. "You'd think with the increasing number of cashless transactions, the system would, one, get more reliable and, two, get cheaper.

Signs saying EFTPOS down at a supermarket and BP station
Signs have been popping up at businesses across Australia and cash advocates say it's proof the country can never be fully cashless. (Source: Facebook)

Do you have a story? Email stew.perrie@yahooinc.com

"But it's getting less reliable and it's getting more expensive. Card surcharges are going up and there seems to be more outages.

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"We all need to carry some cash in our pocket just to make sure that we don't get stranded when we're out and about."

Bryce isn't alone in his fears about the reliance on card machines to ensure businesses get by.

A Woolworths shopper was dismayed when he saw the EFTPOS system was down at his local supermarket near Ballarat, Victoria.

"It’s finally happened...cash only due to all EFTPOS machines being out of order. Girl at the door telling people to go to a bank to withdraw cash then come back to do your shopping...this is the proof that cashless society will never work," he wrote on Facebook.

Another person filling up their petrol posted a photo at the pump showing the card machine was down at the station and many said this was another reminder that "cash is king".

There are loads of reasons why a store's card system might not work on any given day.

It could be the specific EFTPOS machine that's faulty, damaged or malfunctioning, or there could be a problem with the system's telecommunications provider, as we saw during the Optus outage.

There could be a power outage in a specific area, which would impact a card machine's ability to operate.

This is why NSW bakery owner Letitia Thomas runs a cash-only business because she doesn't want her revenue to be affected by something out of her control.

"What happens when we have blackouts?" she told Yahoo Finance. "Like fair enough, I'm not going to have hot pies straightaway till the power comes back on but I can still sell my bread because my till is old school and I don't have to rely on the EFTPOS machine not working."

This was laid bare during the Optus outage when businesses were unable to trade, losing revenue, as the telecommunications giant tried to get back online.

Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen, Flinders University adjunct senior lecturer and Shuttleworth Telecommunications Fellow, said it was only when communications services failed that Aussies were reminded of the “fragility” of our modern systems.

“In the past, the workaround was to use cash. But, following the COVID pandemic, many people have switched to using non-cash payment methods, whether cards or their digital equivalents on their phones,” Gardner-Stephen said.

In the event of a power outage, some card machines have a backup option called Electronic Fall Back (EFB) mode. If the machine can't connect to the bank provider, the terminal will store all the transactions and then process them when the system is back up and running.

Business owners have been warned to update their EFTPOS machines before the 3G network is switched off for good in Australia.

The old-school network has been superseded by the 4G and 5G networks and Telstra and Optus will turn access off on August 31 and September 1 respectively.

Teletrac Navman’s Chief Product Officer Andrew Rossington told NewsWire there will be many systems that need updates due to the switch-off.

“The world we live in, which is devices and vehicles and tracking, so telematics and such," he said.

Card machine
Some card machines will need to be updated before the end of August when the 3G network gets switched off. (Source: Getty)

"There’s a lot of people lagging with those. Even payment systems (such as) EFTOPS and anything that potentially has been sitting there for years that people have forgotten about that might be monitoring safety or tank levels for fuel or security monitoring.”

“Stop putting it off. We’re on a countdown. Get that to the front of mind, get in touch with your provider. Whether that’s telematics or a phone provider, get on it now because come August 30, once you’re in a queue of people doing it, that queue is probably going to have a long tail.”

For both Telstra and Optus customers who want to find out if their mobile device is affected, you can send a text to a number and you will receive a message from your provider.

Telstra and Optus customers are advised to SMS 3 to 3498, with a spokesperson from both telecoms stating that they’ll support customers as much as they can.

What will be affected by the 3G shutdown:

  • Mobile phones: iPhones 5, 5C and 5S, Google Pixel 2 XL, Samsung Galaxy J1 Mini, Samsung Galaxy S5, Nokia 301.

  • Smart watches: Apple Watch Series 3, 4 and 5, Galaxy Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2.

  • Tablets: iPad Air, iPad Retina, iPad mini Retina, iPad mini and mini 3.

  • Internet of Things: (IoT): EFTPOS terminals, Industrial routers, Scanners, Security monitoring, Telematics, Asset tracking, Personal emergency response solutions and Environment monitoring.

- with NCA Newswire

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