The Benefits of Combining Tradition and Technology in Payments

Jan 15, 2024


Rather than chasing a ‘cashless utopia not fit for everyone’, Australia should build a future in which ‘tradition and technology coalesce,’ says financial journalist and author Victoria Devine, recognising the benefits of keeping cash alongside cashless options to create a reliable and inclusive economy.

Writing for WAtoday, Devine opens by saying that while a cashless society may represent progress for some, others would find it damaging to their personal choice and autonomy. For sheer ease of use and absolute privacy, cash is second to none. Even those who prefer cashless transactions will occasionally have cause to rely on banknotes and coins, perhaps due to a power cut or lack of connectivity in their area, or potentially to make a purchase they prefer remains private.

[Cashless] convenience is periodically compromised due to technology failures... cyberattacks, scams and fraud.
"Victoria Devine, Money Columnist, WAtoday

Devine recounts a recent personal experience of her local café being impacted by a major outage at cashless payment provider Square, ‘which forced customers all over the country to pay cash’, attempt direct money transfers or otherwise ‘negotiate IOUs’ with businesses. Naturally, this resulted in considerable disruption and lost revenue, and some people being unable to make purchases. Were cash to be more widely accessible (with Devine noting some 1,600 bank branches closed across the nation between 2017 and 2022) a quick trip to the nearest ATM—or a simple dip into ones’ wallet—and it could have been business as usual.

While ‘the Reserve Bank of Australia has noted that many still have privacy and security concerns related to electronic payments’ and its June 2023 bulletin Cash Use and Attitudes and Australia indicates around 16 percent of in-person transactions continue to be made in cash, ATM and branch closures continue as banks push cashless alternatives. Its bulletin acknowledged ‘there are vulnerabilities to cash access in some communities... and a substantial share of merchants have indicated plans to discourage cash payments at some point in the future,’ but made no commitment beyond ‘monitoring these trends.’

Still, a cashless future is not inevitable. There are significant stumbling blocks, such as the inability to transact without power and an internet connection, the total lack of financial privacy, and the issue of removing rather than adding choice in the payments space. There is another way, as Devine points out, that can combine tradition and technology—something cash embodies with its long history and modern, cutting-edge security features—to enjoy the advantages of both cash and cashless.

Australia should endeavour to champion a future that honours its diverse tapestry, where tradition and technology coalesce for the benefit of all.
"Victoria Devine, Money Columnist, WAtoday

Australia can also draw inspiration from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, which describes cash as ‘an anchor for the monetary system’ and ‘a fair and equal way to pay and save.’

Last Updated: Jan 15, 2024