Australia’s Transition to a Cashless Society
It’s no surprise that Australia, along with many other advanced economies, is steadily transitioning from traditional cash transactions in favour of cashless alternatives for everyday payments. Digital payment methods offer a range of advantages to citizens, businesses and the government alike. However, a cashless society raises concerns for disadvantaged communities.
Australia’s transition to a cashless society offers convenience, round-the-clock availability, swift transactions, enhanced security measures and transparent records. All of which is a driving force behind the ongoing shift towards a cashless society for those who have access to and familiarity with these technologies.
Regardless of the benefits, this shift should not diminish the significance of physical cash – a form of currency with centuries-old history. For many reasons, tangible cash remains a vital component of both our present and future financial landscape, especially for the most vulnerable members of our society.
How did we become a cashless society?
According to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the number of “high cash users” have halved since 2019. A high cash user is someone who uses cash for 80 percent or more of their in-person transactions. Cash accounted for just 13 percent of all payments made in 2022 with the primary reason for keeping cash as a security blanket.
The convenience of tapping our phones to make payments was amplified by the pandemic. when online shopping soared and concerns about handling potentially contaminated cash encouraged this trend. Consequently, many businesses are moving away from accepting or handling physical cash as a payment method.
As we look ahead, the future of payments is set to become even more seamless with the integration of biometrics technology. Facial recognition and fingerprint scanning are poised to play a pivotal role in facilitating transactions. Additionally, artificial intelligence will enable devices to learn and autonomously select the most appropriate card for each purchase.
However, amidst this technological advancement, it’s crucial to consider everyone that this affects, especially those who might be left behind.
How does Australia’s transition to a cashless society affect disadvantaged communities?
The transition towards a cashless society disproportionately affects disadvantaged and at-risk communities, such as people living with disabilities and the elderly. The impact will vary depending on the specific circumstances of these marginalised communities and how well policymakers and businesses address the challenges that may arise.
Although all of the advantages of a transition may still apply there are some substantially negative effects that we need to consider:
- Vulnerable populations, including the elderly, people with disabilities, and those in remote or low-income areas, may have limited access to the internet and smartphones, making it challenging for them to participate in cashless transactions.
- In a cashless society, people become increasingly dependent on technology and electronic systems. For those who lack digital literacy or access to technology, this dependence can be a barrier to participation in their daily activities and essential services.
- Learning new ways to budget and manage finances efficiently in a cashless society can lead to financial mismanagement and overspending.
- Cashless transactions leave a digital trail, potentially eroding the privacy of individuals who may not fully understand the implications or have the means to protect their data.
A first-hand account of a Disability Support Workers transition to a cashless society
We had the opportunity to interview Jennifer, a Disability Support Worker at Maple Services, based in Western Sydney, New South Wales. Jennifer has been a dedicated member of the Maple team for more than a year now, specialising in assisting clients with cognitive disabilities.
Her first-hand insights into how her clients are adapting to the transition to a cashless society provide invaluable information and solutions for a more inclusive financial future:
Q: How has the transition to a cashless society impacted the daily lives of the individuals you support?
A: The transition to a cashless society has created an additional layer of complexity in the daily lives of the individuals I support. The lack of physical interaction with money, coupled with the need to navigate digital platforms, has brought about confusion and uncertainty for many. They miss the simplicity and the familiarity of handling tangible cash for transactions.
Q: Are individuals you support facing challenges in accessing digital payment methods?
A: Indeed, many individuals I support encounter significant challenges in accessing digital payment methods. The barriers are multiple – some don’t own a smartphone or have consistent internet access, while others struggle with the technological literacy required to perform digital transactions, making the whole process overwhelming and inaccessible for them.
Q: How do you assist individuals in understanding and navigating cashless transactions?
A: To assist individuals in understanding and navigating cashless transactions, I adopt a hands-on, patient, and empathetic approach. I invest time in walking them through the entire process, offering demonstrations and guided practice sessions. I make sure to explain each step in a simple and understandable manner, providing continual support and reassurance to bolster their confidence and competence in managing digital transactions.
Q: Have you noticed any increased feelings of independence or empowerment among those you support due to cashless transactions?
A: It’s a mixed bag. For some individuals, mastering the art of cashless transactions has indeed imbued a sense of independence and empowerment. However, for a significant number, the shift to digital has heightened feelings of dependence and vulnerability, primarily due to their discomfort and unfamiliarity with technological platforms.
Q: Have you noticed any changes in spending habits among those you support?
A: Observably, the shift to digital payments has impacted spending habits. The abstract nature of digital money makes it easier for individuals to lose track of their expenditures. Some individuals have unintentionally overspent as they adapt to this new norm, highlighting the necessity for additional support and education in financial management in a digital world.
Q: What feedback have you received from families or guardians about the impact of a cashless society on their loved ones?
A: Feedback from families or guardians has been diverse. While some express appreciation for the perceived security and convenience of digital payments, a considerable number express concern. Their apprehensions are centred on their loved ones’ ability to adeptly navigate and manage digital transactions, and the potential for financial mismanagement is a source of unease.
Q: In your opinion, what additional measures or systems should be in place to ensure that a cashless society is inclusive and accessible to all, especially those with disabilities?
A: In my perspective, ensuring inclusivity in a cashless society mandates a multifaceted approach. Prioritised should be the simplification of digital platforms and enhancing their accessibility for all users, irrespective of technological proficiency.
Providing robust educational support, hands-on training, and consistent assistance will be crucial in helping individuals, especially those with disabilities, to navigate the digital financial landscape confidently. Beyond this, maintaining alternative options for transactions will ensure that no one is involuntarily excluded from the economic activities of society, ensuring equitable access for all
Can Australia become a cashless society?
The ongoing shift towards Australia’s transition to a cashless society is unearthing a complex array of outcomes. Particularly among disadvantaged communities, including those with disabilities. While it can certainly enhance financial inclusion and convenience for some, it can also exacerbate inequalities and vulnerabilities for others.
At Maple, our commitment remains unwavering. We are dedicated to facilitating a smoother transition for our team members and their clients. We will continue to advocate for our clients needs by striving to inform and inspire policymakers and fellow businesses to confront these challenges head-on.
As a nation, we need to ensure that the transition is as inclusive and equitable as possible. To get involved, reach out to our team of dedicated professionals today.