Australia’s banks could soon start ‘cash rationing’ at ATMs, a finance expert predicts – a move that could lead to customers being banned from withdrawing banknotes from other institutions.
A Reserve Bank study found the big banks are increasingly moving away from cash, with just 16 per cent of in-person transactions in Australia done in cash in 2022.
Macquarie Bank this week announced it would stop offering physical withdrawals at its branches from January 2024. It comes shortly after ANZ banned cash withdrawals from tellers at most branches earlier this year.
Finance expert Sarah Wells on Thursday told Daily Mail Australia that banks could soon introduce ‘cash rationing’ because of the lower demand for banknotes.
Cash rationing is where banks only hold limited amounts of physical money in their ATMs.
Ms Wells predicted that this could lead to the introduction of limits for ATM withdrawals. She suggested that customers could even be restricted from withdrawing funds from automatic teller machines other banks operated.
Finance expert Sarah Wells predicted cash rationing would occur at ATMs, as the banks increasingly phased out teller cash transactions
‘There is the possibility that as we reduce the demand for cash, or reduce the availability of cash, then there’s going to be limited amounts of actual, physical cash held,’ Ms Wells said.
She said consumers could soon be restricted to only withdrawing cash from machines their bank owned.
‘If there’s not as much cash, it could be the possibility that you might be only able to take out a certain amount, and then they prioritise their customers over other customers accessing their ATM.’
Peter Tulip, who was a senior research manager with the Reserve Bank from 2011 to 2020, said ING’s online-only approach to banking in Australia was likely to become much more common, even if banknotes still existed.
‘It’s going to be weird for a bank not to do any cash transactions. That was one of their main functions,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘The trend is away from cash – lots of these financial transactions are all moving to the web.
‘There are certainly financial institutions that are entirely online, and lots of our transactions no longer require any face-to-face interaction with a bank employee.’
Ms Wells is predicting the country’s major banks will have gone cashless by 2026.
‘We’re well on our way there,’ she said.
She predicted the federal government would have to step in and allow Australia Post to act as a bank that allowed its tellers to hand over cash.
Australia’s banks could start ‘cash rationing’ at their ATMs so the small minority of customers who still use banknotes are able to access their money, a finance expert says.
This would see the postal service act like a government-owned bank, as the Commonwealth Bank was from 1911 to 1991, until it was gradually privatised.
Elderly victims of scams and the inability of domestic violence victims to escape abuse without their spouse tracking them down highlighted the flaws of a cashless society, she said.
‘It will take a media story for a woman that’s trying to leave a bad situation and can’t do anything because it all has to be done online,’ Ms Wells said.
‘It will take a horrific story like that or an older person that experiences the loss of their entire savings because they’ve been forced into an online system.
‘You have to have an option available or Australia Post step in – there has to be something available for people if they need access to cash.’
Macquarie – Australia’s fifth biggest authorised deposit taker after the Commonwealth, Westpac, NAB and ANZ – has announced that from January to November next year, it would be ‘phasing out our cash and cheque services across all Macquarie banking and wealth management products’.
There are predictions Australia could go cashless as soon as 2026 – or 57 years after the Commercial Banking Company installed the nation’s first ATM (pictured is an early Westpac ATM at Sydney’s Martin Place in 1981)
The Commonwealth Bank and ANZ have stopped cash withdrawals at some of their inner-city branches, but Macquarie is the first big player to announce it would stop tellers at all branches from handling banknotes.
Teller cash transactions are not available at some Sydney branches of the Commonwealth Bank, including Commonwealth Bank Place in Darling Harbour, along with the nearby South Eveleigh, Barangaroo, the University of Sydney or outer suburban Penrith, which the bank now calls ‘specialist centres’.
Daily Mail Australia also understands some ‘specialist centre’ branches in Brisbane and Melbourne no longer permit over-the-counter cash withdrawals and deposits.
The old Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, known as CBC, installed Australia’s first automatic teller machine in 1969, but ATMs could soon become a relic of the past, even before cheques are phased out by 2030.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers in June announced cheques would disappear ‘no later than 2030’.
The Reserve Bank noted in its June bulletin report, by Jack Mulqueeney and Tanya Livermore, that even the elderly were turning away from cash.
‘The demographic groups that traditionally used cash more frequently for payments – such as the elderly, those on lower incomes and those in regional areas – saw the largest declines in cash use,’ it said.