ANZ, one of Australia’s ‘Big 4’ banks, will cease facilitating withdrawals and deposits from a number of its Australian branches, as it looks to push its customers towards using an ever-dwindling number of ATMs and deposit machines.
The decision has received pushback, with critics such as Patricia Sparrow from the Council of the Ageing Australia telling The Australian the change could disproportionately affect older people who are less capable of going digital — while others suggest it would make fiat users more susceptible to technical issues. It has also renewed fears that it is the start of a push to eliminate cash and that cash could soon be replaced by Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs).
The end of cash is near.
They are trying to go all digital, and then bring in the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) to be programable so they can control how you spend your money.
Eventually they will be able to make your CBDC money expire or disallow certain products. pic.twitter.com/8O27nn4iYe
— Wall Street Silver (@WallStreetSilv) March 29, 2023
In response to questions from Cointelegraph, an ANZ spokesperson noted 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 Big4 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.”
While the other two banks in the Big 4, CBA and Westpac did not respond to questions from Cointelegraph by the time of publication, Westpac told The Australian that it also had no plans to wind back access to cash through its branches, however a CBA spokesperson was slightly more ambiguous in their response.