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'Piggybank killer': Cashless society unstoppable, expert warns



The move by a major Australian bank to phase out cash and cheques appears to be the latest chapter in the relentless march to a cashless society as more people embrace electronic payments.

But while the prospect of a fully digital economy promises a faster, safer and more convenient way to bank, one expert has warned of potential downsides.

Harald Scheule, a professor of finance at the University of Technology, Sydney, spoke with after the Macquarie Bank announced it was axing cash, cheques and phone payments for customers from next year.

READ MORE: Macquarie Bank to begin phasing out cash and cheques

In a letter written to customers, Macquarie Bank said that by November 2024 customers will be unable to write or deposit cheques (including bank cheques), deposit or withdraw cash over the counter at NAB branches or make a super contribution or payment with a cheque.

Electronic tools such as direct debt, tap and go, credit facilities and bank transfer together with banks taking ATMs out of service were making cashless payments "unstoppable".

"There has been a big growth in the the number of places where you can use card payments.

"Today's it's easier to use card payments for all sorts of location … if you go to a community barbeque you can pay for your sausage sandwich," he said.

But Scheule warned there was signs of a sting in the tail amid the move to more convenient cashless payments.

A growing percentage of card transactions now include payment surcharges passed onto customers as businesses seek to recoup merchant fees.

And the demise of cash poses a threat to the decades-old saving and spending habits of older Australians who may be unfamiliar with the technology.

READ MORE: What's behind the pro-cash movement on social media?

Bunnings sausage sizzle

Electronic payments are a potential "piggybank killer", for a much younger generation: revolutionising the practice of young children receiving pocket money and saving it.

"There are also the barefoot investors … these books are sold in their millions and their philosophy is to save, spend and donate by putting cash and coins in jars … which tries to teach people an understanding of money," Scheule said.

"But of course you can't do that with cards."

Scheule said he expected cash to be around for a "long time", while the switch to a fully digital economy in Australia was probably 10 to 20 years away.

But he urged governments to start preparing now.

"We still need to create rules … if we just move straight to a digital economy unexpected things may happen."

READ MORE: The states and territories getting a public holiday in October

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