The Aussies being left behind in switch to cashless society

The king is dead. Not King Charles – we’re referring to cash. And some Australians are being left behind and disadvantaged.

Managing day-to-day transactions without cash is convenient for many and certainly more profitable for financial institutions. And that profitability is driving institutions to fast track the world towards a cashless society.

But this cavalier attitude – with the ‘Big Four’ banks leading the charge – appears to pay little heed to the needs of Aussies still heavily reliant on cash. The majority of these are either older or rural-based Australians or both.

What’s the big problem with not using cash?

For most, it’s not a problem at all. Even most of us in our 50s have adapted to the transition from cash to card to smartphone. But some are uncomfortable with cashless technologies, yet have no alternative. The local bank they’ve been walking to once or twice a week for decades has closed. The bank’s ATM might have been removed – if not at the time of closure, soon after.

This has happened across many suburbs. Cash lovers may be lucky enough to be able to switch to another bank in their suburb. At worst, they can drive or take public transport to a bank in a suburb nearby.

For country Australians, that option doesn’t exist. Many rural towns have been left without a bank at all. For residents of those towns there is no nearby suburb. The nearest town with a bank or even an ATM could be an hour’s drive away.

The proportion of Australia’s population that falls into this category is admittedly small, but it is significant.

Swinburne University Adjunct Professor Steve Worthington says around 7 per cent used cash for the majority of transactions last year. “There are significant minorities in that 7 per cent,” he said. “Senior citizens who are not digitally native, then there’s also people in rural and regional areas.”

Prof. Worthington also highlighted another important factor. “We have well over two million people with either no or little access to the internet. How they’re supposed to shift away from using cash is beyond me.”

Are the banks coming to the party?

Not according to the latest figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA). Figures published by APRA last week show the number of bank branches nationwide fell 11 per cent in 2021-22. Since 2018, there has been a 35 per cent reduction in branch numbers. That’s more than a third of bank branch closures in just four years.

The decline in ATM numbers has been even steeper. The number of ATMs fell by 11 per cent in the year to June. That’s similar to the rate of branch closures in the same period but the figure since 2018 is a whopping 55 per cent.

The ‘Big Four’ banks’ ‘cash unfriendly’ tactics were called into question earlier this year by the federal government’s Regional Banking Taskforce. But although some agreed to a temporary moratorium on branch closures, the banks appear committed to unabated branch closures.

Those closures will come with a rather nebulous commitment to providing ‘better support’ to the disadvantaged.

What form of support that would entail remains to be seen.

Have you lost your local bank branch and/or ATM? How has this affected you? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Rate of bank closures surprises even those supposedly in the know

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. Commonwaste Bank has closed our local branch although we use its BSB on our account – go figure. The branch has been closed however we as customers have never been informed by CBA of the closure or offered any advice/help.
    Probably we are unimportant to them having had our account with them for only 30 years.

    • David, all 4 of the ‘big banks’ have closed their doors in Lavington. There’s only WAW Credit Union and Hume Bank that have branches there now., and they charge non-bank customers to use their ATMs, which is ridiculous. The Post Office is far too busy to even think about using it.

      I used to drive into Albury to withdraw my cash and use the ATM or go in branch. Then I’d do my main shopping in Albury then travel home. I’m fortunate that I have a car. I pity the poor people who have to rely on public transport to get into town.

      I’ve now moved an hour and a half north to a larger city, and I can do my withdrawals at my local branch (if I have to take out coins), or at the ATMx at my local shopping centre, adjacent to Coles – extremely handy!

    • Apart from everything else, by dealing with plastic/etc. you leave unavoidable tracks across the internet, which any one can hack into and use. The ida that you can feed your passwords, etc., in a digital system and it stays ‘our secret’ is utter bllshit.
      The various institutions (banks/government departments like motor-reg. etc. ALL use your bank-numbers to match with information held by other institutions (supermarkets/medical providers/etcetcetc); swapping/cross-referencing and/or selling YOUR PRIVATE INFORMATION FOR THEIR OWN PURPOSES AND PROFITS. Class Action is needed: either by way of a legal challenge or a civil revolution (which will get rid of the PO0LITICIANS which allow this crap! ) An action which appeals to me is that EVERYBODY REFUSES OUTRIGHT TO PAY ANY BILLS/CHARGES (including Rates/mortgages/ registration/ etcetcetc.) until these bastards pull their heads in. Meanwhile, there’s NOTHING ‘they’ can do about it, as long as EVERYBODY participates and hangs fat.

  2. No matter what, I’ll NEVER go cashless. I don’t want to have the massive headache of reconciling my bank account with around 4-5 pages every month! My bank statement is 2 pages a month, which is OK for me.

    I pay my bills via internet banking, and withdraw my spending and food out in cash – I can see my spending habits without them being on display on my statement.

    I’m a bookkeeper by trade, and use MYOB & Excel to keep a track of my spending. This gives me all the information I need without clogging up my bank statement.

    • A message for the Major Banks’. “It is our money Ralph, not yours”. We trust you as custodians of our hard-earned cash on a temporary basis. Why should you dictate to us how and when we can withdraw it and how much we are able to withdraw, putting on restrictions, closing branches and taking away ATMS. You are forcing us into a cashless society, saving you employing more staff and making higher profits for the shareholders.

      We need to stand together (people power). This is discriminating against those who are not able to transact electronically. Using other forms of payment attracts bank fees which add up each month, whereas some people use cash to budget. If you don’t have the funds, then you don’t make a purchase. How much debt is being created by paying with card when the card is not being paid out on a monthly basis? Are we funding this debt by the restrictions being put on us by the Bank’s?

  3. The problem is banks have been allowed too much power the are not interested in the people except for ripping them off with excessive bank fees, people don’t realize it costs them to use their cards instead of cash. Banks should be regulated unfortunately unless people protest it will continue, Banks should be regulated again like they were years ago problem is you can’t expect Politicians to act for their Constituents as the banks pay huge donations to the parties to keep control of us.

  4. The government may pay lip-service to having banking enquiries however it suits their purpose if society does go cashless. EVERY cent of your money, whether receipts or debits, would then be able to be tracked. This is truly Big Brother-ish and rightly scarey.
    The rights, access and abilities of individuals to use their financial resources in any legal way they wish, means nothing to banks or, it seems, to our governments.

  5. I live in Mount Evelyn, an outer eastern area of Melbourne. We downsized moving to our current home in 2012. At that time there were two banks, CBA and Bendigo Bank. My wife and I have always been CBA customers. Having a CBA branch in the township was good for us. The bank had a staff of five. Then five years ago, out of the blue notices went up saying the bank and its ATM was closing, and the nearest CBA branch was at Lilydale. No reason at all was given as to why the bank was closing. Although small, it was always busy. All banking business was capably handled by the friendly staff. This has been a terrible loss to Mount Evelyn as the bank was well patronized by the local community.

  6. I live in Yarram Victoria, all banks have closed in this town except for the Bendigo bank, and we had all 4 major banks here, and yes I agree with what someone else has already said, if we go cashless then that would be the end!! Government would know exactly what everybody is spending their money on! everyone have a good think about this! it’s not good. Woolworth’s do this with your everyday rewards card! and even this is a little creepy? Big Brother!!

  7. Banks make enough money out of us already so why would their customers who have a modicum of intelligence truly support a cashless society? It may be convenient for many to ‘tap and go’ at an additional cost to themselves. Cash is still king for me and will remain so until I kick the bucket. For those businesses who no longer accept cash as payment for goods or services you obviously don’t need my custom. The catchphrase of this ‘time poor’ society is wearing thin as we all have the same amount of time we have always had to conduct business, buy groceries etc. so people need to stop getting caught up in this rush and reorganise their lifestyle to make it work for them rather than allowing the lifestyle to rule them.

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