The move comes as Australians continue to reduce their usage of cash and bank branches, but has sparked fears that the death of cash is near.
ANZ, one of Australia’s “Big Four” banks, will cease facilitating withdrawals and deposits from a number of its Australian branches as it looks to push its customers toward using an ever-dwindling number of ATMs and deposit machines.
The decision has received pushback, with critics such as Patricia Sparrow, CEO of the Council on the Ageing, telling The Australian that the change could disproportionately affect older people who are less capable of going digital. Others have suggested it would make fiat users more susceptible to technical issues. The move has also renewed fears of a push to eliminate cash and that cash could soon be replaced by central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).
In response to questions from Cointelegraph, an ANZ spokesperson said that the affected branches are all metropolitan branches that have ATMs and deposit machines nearby and that the move was partially prompted by in-branch transactions decreasing by more than 50% over the past four years.
The development comes as Australia gradually transitions to a cashless society, with the percentage of retail payments made with cash falling from 59% in 2007, to just 27% in 2019, according to a March 16 bulletin from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).
The RBA noted that the results from its 2022 survey will be available later this year, but added that the COVID-19 pandemic had only accelerated the trend, with businesses also contributing to the shift:
“Furthermore, a substantial share of merchants indicated plans to discourage cash payments at some point in the future.”
The RBA also pointed to a reduction in ATMs and bank branches around the nation, with the number of bank branches falling by 30% since 2017 while ATMs numbers fell by 25% since 2016.
One of the major concerns with CBDCs replacing cash is how they might affect individual freedom and privacy, as cash transactions offer anonymity and the ability to make transactions without leaving a record.
A CBDC pilot program is currently underway in Australia, with an update expected around the middle of 2023, and one of the ramifications identified by the RBA was that it could displace the cash Australian dollar.
In an emailed response to questions from Cointelegraph, a spokesperson for another of the Big Four banks, NAB, allayed these fears somewhat, saying:
“NAB still handles cash at our branches and we have no plans to change. Cash will continue to play an important part in Australian society for as long as our customers want it to.”
The other two banks in the Big Four, CBA and Westpac, did not respond to questions from Cointelegraph by the time of publication, but Westpac told The Australian that it also had no plans to wind back access to cash through its branches. A CBA spokesperson was slightly more ambiguous in their response, however.