Three of Australia’s ‘Big Four’ banks have expressed reluctance to make some of their branches cashless – but there are sometimes subtle signs that reveal which locations don’t offer in-person cash service.
An obvious sign that customers cannot withdraw cash from a bank branch is a vague name.
National Australia Bank and Commonwealth Bank refer to their cashless locations as “Centers of Expertise” and “Specialty Centers” respectively. These branches direct customers to ATMs for everyday banking needs.
ANZ also unofficially refers to them as cashless branches.digital branches‘ – although from the outside you can hardly tell the difference.
ANZ does not have different signage for its non-teller branches, but likely they will have prominent SmartATMs on the front
The reason for the distinction could be related to the laws on bank location reporting to the financial regulator, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), which states that personal cash services must be available to be classified as a branch.
Instructions are also available online.
NAB and CommBank indicate on their branch location websites that a bank is “counterless” – although CBA recently put the centers of expertise in their own category.
ANZ is more subtle. On the ANZ bank locations page, some branches state that they offer “full service”.
Elsewhere, the phrase “Self-service options available: Smart ATM” usually means that no cash services are available at the counter.
The end of the ‘branch bank’ in Australia?
While banks have been quick to point out that cash services are still offered through ATMs and in nearby branches, the opening of these cashless locations could well spell the end for traditional banking branches altogether.
Managing Director Retail Banking for ANZ, Kath Bray, wrote in 2021 that “banking has been going digital for a lot longer than we might think.”
“The latest digital payments data suggests that Australia is better positioned than most countries in the world to adopt electronic-only payments,” Ms Bray said.
“Of those who still use physical banking, only a small proportion do not want to switch.” “Most are happy with the switch to digital banking if we make it easy for them and show them how to do it.”
Keeping traditional branches open for the small number of customers who use them is becoming increasingly uneconomical for banks as the majority of their customers go digital and ATMs are able to serve those who hold onto cash.
Ms Bray pointed to companies like Amazon or “neobanks” that could step in to topple the dominance of established financial institutions if the big banks don’t keep up with digital transformation.
For example, NAB has launched its own fully digital subsidiary, Ubank.
But cash use isn’t declining as much as banks might think.
RBA cash withdrawal figures through April 2023 show cash use remaining stable – Australians make 30 million cash withdrawals monthly – little changed since early 2022.
Cash is still the most popular way to pay for goods in retail, according to a survey by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
According to the data, more than 60 percent of shoppers prefer to pay in cash, followed by debit cards, then credit cards, and then by phone.
Even more tellingly, 99 percent of the more than 7,000 respondents aged 18+ think people should be able to choose how they pay and are concerned about a cashless society.
Many small businesses prefer cash as they don’t have to pay fees to eftpos providers on every transaction
CashWelcome.org spokesman Jason Bryce said cash is critical to the economy.
He explained that digital payments can be inferior as they are subject to failure or compromise of computer systems through hacks, digital transaction fees and the ability to track each purchase.
He pointed out that garage sales, school festivals, fundraisers, the ability to slip a $50 bill into a card or buy a gift for a spouse without it showing on a bank statement all rely on cash.
“We all like to drive with the push of a button, but when people aren’t able to withdraw cash at any time, trust in digital systems dwindles,” he said.
A Notice In March, the Reserve Bank agreed that cash is a vital part of the economy and that shrinking access points to cash could lead to instability.
“The Bank has committed to work to support the continued provision of cash services in Australia as part of its 2022-23 Corporate Plan and the 2022 Note Distribution Arrangements Review Conclusions,” it said.
“One way is by monitoring consumers’ ability to access and pay with cash.”