Easily forgotten by those not affected and purposely ignored in the pro-cashless debate, rural towns are some of the hardest hit when communities are forced to become cashless, as the town of Alpha, Australia serves to remind us this week.
In the small town in the Queensland west area, the only ATM available to the cash-dependent community was broken into and vandalised last week, leaving the only 24-hour cash providing service in the town out of action until further notice.
According to 9News.com.au, the town, which has a population of only 350 people, “relies on small businesses and markets, many of which need cash to function” due to its “limited digital connectivity and no NBN, making hard cash an even more important resource.”
”When there's a community event of a Saturday market it's going to prove challenging.”
The fight against cashless in rural communities
When payment choice or services are removed from rural areas, they often become cashless by default. The term ‘cashless’ simply means no access to or use of cash. In a cashless society, cash does not exist, and our only payment options would be credit or debit cards and mobile payment services. While this is a profit-promising utopia for cashless lobbyists, the reality of the negative impact of cashless societies has historically been echoed by rural communities around the world.
The rural and cashless UK communities
Rural areas and vulnerable individuals around the world have, like the townsfolk in Alpha, found themselves forced into becoming cashless communities by default. On the other side of the globe, the UK’s rural areas have significantly suffered from rapidly disappearing cash services. Between January 2015 and August 2019 led to “3,303 bank branch closures, equating to 34% of the network.” The removal of banks left permanently switched off ATMs in towns and villages, leaving affected areas with no access to cash in the local area. This issue was addressed in the 2019 Access to Cash Review which suggested the nation is “sleepwalking into a cashless society”, calling for more to be done to help the involuntarily cashless rural communities who are fighting back for their right to access cash.
Nearly cashless Sweden’s warning to the world
Pro-cashless countries like Australia could learn a lot from Sweden’s nearly cashless experience. Once the poster child for cashless, the government passed a law in November 2019 which ensures all major banks offer cash services throughout the country. This move was spurred by the measurable impact cashless payment systems had on rural areas, where access to cash meant driving for miles to the closest town.
Learning from Sweden’s mistakes, the US has recently followed suit by banning cashless-only merchants in cities and states around the country to protect their own rural towns and vulnerable individuals who, without intervention, could risk not purchasing even the most basic necessities.
What can we learn?
In the case of Alpha’s vandalised ATM, the situation is only temporary. However, the lack of access to cash puts inhabitants and small businesses at a payment choice disadvantage and will force them to experience the very isolating reality that communities and individuals around the world endure as part of their every day lives. However, when their ATM is fixed, we could see the people of Alpha react like the inhabitants of Skoghall, Sweden. When their new ATM was installed, the town’s celebrations became a joyful, viral sensation in 2015!