Australians Speak Up for Cash

Apr 19, 2024


A fake image suggesting Australia’s largest retail bank was going cashless caused outrage across the nation, with customers threatening to close their accounts before it was debunked by the bank. But with ATMs closing by the hundred and recent service outages cutting people off from their money, access to cash remains a hot topic.

In March, a screenshot purporting to be from the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) carried the message ‘We here at Commonwealth Bank look forward to what a Cashless Society will bring to Australia.’ It was widely shared on social media alongside claims that all ATMs across Queensland would be gone by mid-July, with other states set to follow. A spokesperson told Yahoo Finance the whole story was fake.

This is a fake screenshot. While we’re investing in our digital services, where the majority of our customers are engaging with us, we know access to cash remains important and we certainly have no plans to phase out ATMs or stop providing cash.
"Commonwealth Bank Spokesperson

However, Yahoo goes on to report that in the past five years, CBA has closed 354 branches and 2,297 ATMs across the country. Across all providers, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority says 424 bank branches and 718 ATMs closed in the 12 months leading up to June 2023, including 122 branches that served remote areas. Additionally, CBA subsidiary Bankwest very recently announced it would become digital-only, closing 45 locations and no longer offering physical services, including cash-based transactions.

With this news unfolding shortly after a widespread outage of CBA’s NetBank app left thousands of customers unable to access online banking, questions are being asked about whether Australians really want or will be well served by a cashless society.

Finance expert Sarah Wells says the first to suffer will be those living in remote areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, new immigrants and those on the lowest incomes. Emergencies and disasters will spread the problems across even wider populations as cash payments are essential when electricity and internet infrastructures go down.

The key message to concerned Australians is to speak up for cash. Banks can be swayed by public outrage if it threatens their bottom line or results in political pressure. Ireland is a prime example of both, with cash users celebrating victory after Allied Irish Banks reversed its decision to go cashless in 2022 following uproar that reached as high as then-Prime Minister Micheál Martin. Many governments—including in the US, Austria and Sweden—are also considering pro-cash legislation.

Taking to social media and calling on bank leaders and politicians to preserve access to cash could help ensure a free, fair and resilient economy for present and future Australians alike.

Last Updated: Apr 19, 2024