RBA making ‘reasonable access to cash’ for Australians a ‘high priority’

Dec 13, 2023
The commitment to guaranteeing the availability of cash for those who depend on it remains steadfast amid ongoing debates about the trajectory of Australia's move towards a cashless society. Source: Getty Images.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor Michele Bullock has declared that ensuring “reasonable access to cash” for Australians is a top-tier priority.

The bank’s commitment comes at a time when digital transactions are on the rise, sparking discussions about the importance of maintaining tangible currency options.

During her address at the Australian Payments Network Summit on Tuesday, December 12, Bullock discussed the ongoing challenge of maintaining access to cash in the face of the surging trend towards digital payments.

She emphasised that the RBA is “focused on access to cash for Australians”, acknowledging the evolving landscape of digital transactions.

“This issue has received some attention in the media recently and I would like to provide some context and discuss the work that is underway,” Bullock said.

“The use of cash for payments has been in decline for many years as consumers have switched to digital payments. The share of consumer payments made using cash declined from 70 per cent in 2007 to 13 per cent in 2022.

“Despite this decline, cash remains an important means of payment for some people and is widely held for precautionary or store-of-wealth purposes. Cash is also an important backup method of payment during system outages or natural disasters, when electronic payments might be unavailable.

“For these reasons, the RBA places a high priority on the community continuing to have reasonable access to cash withdrawal and deposit services.”

Bullock also highlighted the issue of access to ATMs around the country, committing to further ensure a “broad coverage of ATMs” in areas where they are needed.

“We are keen to see the industry maintaining a broad coverage of ATMs at reasonable prices, particularly in regional and remote areas,” she said.

“We will continue to engage with industry participants to determine whether any changes are required to the RBA’s regulation of the ATM industry to facilitate this.”

Bullock’s commitment to guaranteeing the availability of cash for those who depend on it remains steadfast amid ongoing debates about the trajectory of Australia’s move towards a cashless society and increased dependence on digital transactions.

While those who believe that cash is king and hope to slow the march towards a cashless society, experts warn that it’s now more than just a possibility, it’s “well underway”.

The move toward a cashless society, once seen as a futuristic idea, is happening much faster than expected and RMIT associate professor in finance, Dr. Angel Zhong believes we could be doing away with cash by the end of the decade.

“The shift towards a cashless society in Australia isn’t just a possibility, it’s already well underway,” Zhong explained in a piece for The Conversation.

“The convenience of digital transactions has become irresistible for consumers and businesses and has led to the sector eclipsing traditional payment methods.”

While the idea might raise concerns, Zhong reassures the public that despite the digital wave, cash is not on the verge of vanishing entirely.

“It doesn’t mean that there’s no bank notes at all. No one should be panicking that your banknotes will no longer carry value,” she told Nine News.

“If you look at the statistics about banknotes in circulation, it actually remains at around 20 per cent, according to the report, over the years.

“The meaning of cashless society is more about the way that we transact, it adds to the convenience of our day-to-day lives.

“There is always a place for cash but the majority will be making payments with digital wallets.”

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