“This shift away from cash accelerated during the pandemic and is evident in the sharp drop in the value of withdrawals from ATMs,” he said.
The number of branches has also fallen. ANZ, CBA and Westpac each closed between 181 and 186 branches in the five years to 2020. NAB shed 42.
A spokesman for NAB said that since 2018, the number of ATM transactions was down by 45 per cent and cash withdrawals were down by 47 per cent.
“NAB customers can withdraw cash fee-free at more than 6000 ATMs across Australia,” he said. “If we remove an ATM, we always ensure there is a [email protected] service available to provide cash withdrawal and deposit services.”
Swinburne University Professor of marketing Steve Worthington said people have been using less cash at the point of sale and making fewer withdrawals from ATMs since the pandemic. Banks were also closing branches and people were doing more online banking. Third parties had provided more independently owned ATMs, which charge fees, to fill the gap in shopping centres and other public areas including clubs.
“Cash is still important for a lot of people particularly in rural areas where people have limited or no internet access and have people who are elderly and recent arrivals to Australia,” he said. “There are still a lot of people who rely on cash.”
Some were even hoarding cash to store wealth, for emergencies or for nefarious purposes.
Many supermarkets now have card-only checkouts. The ANZ bank and fast-food chain Fishbowl have outlets that are completely cashless.
Australia’s first hole in the wall was installed in Brisbane in 1977. The Queensland Teachers’ Credit Union heralded a new era in banking convenience when it was the first to give its customers the option of withdrawing cash from a machine at its headquarters in Fortitude Valley. QTCU general manager Mike Murphy said installing the machine was a gamble for the credit union at the time but had paid off.
ATMs were introduced widely in the 1980s and there were more than 31,000 cash machines around the country in 2015, which the RBA said was high relative to Australia’s population. After reaching a peak in 2009, the number of withdrawals started to fall, by about 20 per cent over the next six years.
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