ANZ, one of Australia’s “Big Four” banks, has halted cash withdrawals and deposits at several metropolitan branches. Instead, they push customers towards the use of ATMs and deposit machines.
This move comes amid a decline in cash usage and branch visits by Australians. However, it sparks concerns over the potential demise of cash and its replacement by central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).
Critics of ANZ’s decision argue that it may disproportionately impact older individuals who are less capable of transitioning to digital banking.
Patricia Sparrow, CEO of the Council on the Ageing, expressed her concerns to The Australian, highlighting the potential difficulties faced by elderly customers. Others have noted that the move may make fiat currency users more vulnerable to technical issues.
An ANZ spokesperson clarified that the affected branches are all located in metropolitan areas with nearby ATMs and deposit machines. The decision was partly driven by a 50% decrease in in-branch transactions over the past four years.
Australia’s shift towards a cashless society is supported by data from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), which reported that the percentage of retail payments made in cash fell from 59% in 2007 to just 27% in 2019.
The RBA attributes this trend to the COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated the move towards cashless transactions, and businesses opting to discourage cash payments.
Furthermore, Australia’s bank branches and ATMs have decreased by 30% and 25% since 2017 and 2016, respectively.
Concerns regarding CBDCs replacing cash center around the potential loss of individual freedom and privacy, as cash transactions offer anonymity and do not leave a record.
The RBA is conducting a CBDC pilot program in Australia, with an update expected in mid-2023. The central bank has acknowledged the possibility of CBDCs displacing the cash Australian dollar.
Meanwhile, Westpac assured The Australian that it has no plans to reduce access to cash through its branches.
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) provided a more ambiguous response, not explicitly confirming or denying such plans.