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Phasing out cheques, and what will happen to cash?

Cheques and bank service, or the lack of, were major topics when I addressed a seniors’ group recently. The word had got out that the government was phasing out cheques, and many of the members of the audience were feeling abandoned.

On cheques

One person told me he was shocked to receive a letter from his bank telling him the Federal Government would be phasing out cheques. He said: “For years I have used cheques for donations to charities and sending family members a gift of money. Sending cash in the mail is not secure, and I have always found cheques to be a reliable and safe way to send money. How can I send a surprise gift of cash to family and friends once the cheque option is no longer available?”

I must confess it caught me by surprise. It’s been years since I’ve sent or received a cheque, and I have never given them much thought. They are one of the most inefficient methods of payment around. To send someone a cheque you have to write the check out in legible handwriting, find their address and write that on an envelope, also legibly, add a postage stamp and then take the letter to a post box. If you receive a cheque, you’ve got the hassle of finding a bank branch that’s still open, making out a deposit form, standing in line for the teller, and then waiting a week for the funds to be cleared.

I spoke to the Reserve Bank, who told me that cheque use has declined drastically in recent decades. At its peak in the 1980s, cheque payments accounted for 85% of all non-cash payments. Today, cheques are used for just 0.01% of total payments. One of the main reasons is how easy the system is to defraud. The bank tells me that common cheque frauds include:

  • counterfeit cheques (false copies of cheques previously issued),
  • materially altered cheques (the payee or amount has been altered) and
  • lost or stolen cheques (sometimes a whole chequebook has been stolen).

The government has a timetable for phasing out cheques. Next year will see the end of bank cheques, 2026 will be the end of commercial and government cheques, and by 2027 there will be no more personal cheques. By the end of 2030, the entire cheque system should be over and done with.

Figure 1: Potential staged transition plan for cheques system

Source: treasury.gov.au

The reality is that there are now much better methods payment available. For domestic transfers I love Osko ,which appears on many transfers I make through St George bank. Once you press the confirm button a message comes up that the payment has been successfully received by the payee. It’s instantaneous. And of course, you get an immediate receipt. Almost all my bills now come by email, and I just make an electronic payment through the bank account, print off a confirmation receipt, and staple that to the bill itself.

Not all the audience were convinced. One pointed out that there are elderly people who have never learnt to do internet banking, and plenty of people in the bush have no access to the internet if they knew how to use it. Very good points, and I had no solution for them.


Source: treasury.gov.au

Bye bye to cash

A more contentious issue is the phasing out of cash. The main functions of cash are as a means of exchange (to buy things), and as a store of value (you can safely tuck away a few $100 notes knowing that they will retain value into the future as legal tender).

The Reserve Bank’s sixth triennial Consumer Payments Survey found that most in-person payments are now made by tapping cards or mobile devices, even for small purchases. This means the share of in-person transactions made with cash halved — from 32% to 16% —over the three years to 2022. The demographic groups that traditionally used cash more frequently for payments, including the elderly, people on lower incomes, and regional residents, had the largest declines in cash use. Cash usage has generally been replaced with card payments. While Australians are aware of and use a range of other newer payment methods, such as digital wallets and buy now pay later services, they still make up a small share of payments.

When things get risky, like during the pandemic, people tuck $100 notes away as a risk management strategy. So, people now use cash less often as a means of exchange, but still value it highly as a store of value. And the numbers are big. It’s estimated there are now $60 billion worth of bank notes in circulation — that’s about $2600 a person. There must be somebody with plenty – there are none at my place.

The lack of bank service

The next issue was the refusal of banks to accept overseas cheques. One woman said her SMSF owns several properties in the USA and last year received two cheques for insurance claims on those properties. Both St George and Westpac refused to accept the cheques as, like almost every other Australian Bank, they no longer accept cheques in overseas currencies.

The Australian Bankers Association say the remedy is to ask the overseas institution to use the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) system which facilitates secure and swift international payments between financial institutions worldwide. It ensures efficient transfer of funds, enabling businesses and individuals to conduct cross-border transactions seamlessly. SWIFT is utilized by over 11,000 financial institutions across more than 200 countries and territories globally.

However, there is a glimmer of hope. Both HSBC bank and Heritage Bank tell me that they will accept cheques in US dollars on behalf of customers. Maybe it’s worthwhile opening an account with them.

 

Noel Whittaker is the author of 'Retirement Made Simple' and numerous other books on personal finance. This article is general information. See noelwhittaker.com.au.

 

46 Comments
Mary N
March 11, 2024

I am in my 80s. My eyesight is poor and I don't have a mobile phone. Cheques are much the safest method of payment. It is an example of age discrimination to ban cheques. The government should keep allowing them. The main users are older, & will die off fairly soon anyway.

Acton
March 05, 2024

My son wanted money for his 21st. We wanted to give him a generous amount, but not by bank transfer, not in cash and not with some pre-loaded card. So into his birthday card went a cheque. It was something physical to present from the family for his special occasion. After I explained what a cheque was he happily took it to the bank to deposit into his account. He even took a photo of it.

Ramon Vasquez
March 05, 2024

So much for democracy ! It is a farce !

Back to Gold , please .

Yours , Ramon .

SRC
March 04, 2024

Regarding retailers charging a credit card surcharge, I've never seen the justification. Merchants make considerable savings by not having to handle money. Anyone who has worked in retail would know the time and effort of managing cash is significant - banking after hours, managing a float, till reconciliations, the security issues of handling cash during the day, theft possibilities - the list goes on. Paying 1.5% to a billing company to make all those problems go away seems like a good business decision. But then charging the customers on top of that is double dipping and unjustified. Maybe we should ask for a discount for using a credit card.

Cyberbob
March 04, 2024

Extrapolating the trendlines from the RBA graph appears to indicate that cash usage will reach zero by 2025. As others have indicated, a cashless society may be all well and good when it works as advertised, however when bushfires visited our part of the country a while ago we had firsthand experience of trying to cope with modern life without electricity for several days. Besides no household electricity to charge phones (car charger was an option for some), there were no streetlights, traffic lights, petrol pumps or grocery stores operating. The supermarkets had backup generators for their chillers full of perishables but were not open for business. Of the 40 or so local eateries only a handful, mostly Asian, were operating, presumably because most wok cooking is done with gas. As for communications, as far as I know Telstra mobile and copper landlines were operating, Vodafone and NBN were not. As a result, only cash transactions were available but the catch for those without cash on hand was that ATMs were offline. In addition, some households with solar power were no better off than the ones without as their solar systems still required some grid power to operate. Having lived overseas where backup generators and universal power supplies (about the size and cost of a car battery) are ubiquitous it was interesting to note that, of the businesses here that provide fairly necessary supplies and services, very few of them have backup power supplies. The Chinese Communist Party long ago recognised the importance of encouraging cashless transactions. When matched with personal details the CCP assigns each citizen a social score which is influenced by what products and services show up on the customer's transaction record. This in turn determines what services the citizen is allowed to access and what charges, taxes, and fines are applied. The CCP is thus able to influence and control their citizens' behaviour, while dissidents can have their lives suitably restricted. When the shooting starts in earnest with Russia/North Korea/Iran/China, etc. resulting in destruction of satellite and sub-marine communications, and their hackers get busy disrupting the programmable logic controllers on our critical infrastructure (which they have already demonstrated), we may begin to question the wisdom of the race to widespread digitalisation of our lives without a plan B.

June
March 04, 2024

I have met Noel Whittaker at one of the conferences I organised many years ago, and valued his comments then as I do now. I must admit that the removal of cheques will not worry me unduly, but the lack of customer service in our financial institutions, closure of branches with a "real person" and the denial by some retailers/businesses to refuse to take cash (which is still legal tender in our country) riles me greatly. It seems that me that consumers have less and less say about how they consume, interact or trade. Last year, when the Optus outage caused severe hardship to many businesses and annoyance to Optus' customers, one very happy retailer in Kingscliffe NSW was thrilled to take my cash for an item I wanted......she said it was the only sale she had made that day! Would not even cover her rent I'd wager! Luckily the item actually had a physical price ticket on it too!!! And, as I've read in previous comments, what happens when our country is subject to cyber attacks on our financial system, and we will be, not to mention all of the computer driven services that keep our country going? On a small scale, that also applies to POS machines in shops which, if they are fully computerised, cannot even tell you the price of an item, let alone allow you to use any method to pay for such item. Sorry to be a Prophet of Doom, but I think the efficiency boffins should be careful what they wish for!

john
March 03, 2024

Very good and valuable comments on here.
Of course, the likes of direct debits, credit cards and digital wallets on smart phones etc all encourage indiscriminate spending which is what big business wants. Plus awful surprises when the monthly bill comes in.
This is based on the song 'Old Macdonalds Farm' - so sing along.
"
My young nephew has a smartphone,
E I E I O
And on that smartphone he has a digital wallet,
E I E I O
With a ding ding here, a ding ding there,
Everywhere a ding ding - E I E I O

Tom Taylor
March 03, 2024

Clearly all governments, Liberal, Labour, Country Party plus Green, Teal and independent wanabees are there not as your representative but there to push an agenda that is all about control. In every aspect of life now you have the animal farm pigs leading us to the knackery.

Ron
March 03, 2024

The Government/ Treasury could not believe their luck when covid struck and every one in retail was encouraged to refuse cash, insisting on contactless payment. This occurrence took 5 plus years off the long term plan of the Treasury to convert the population to a totally cashless society and enabling the authorities to track the population`s every move and spending habits. I see Bob Katter was a victim recently of the cashless society in Federal Parliament when the cafeteria staff refused to accept cash payment for a meal.

G Hollands
March 03, 2024

The suggestion that cheques are more susceptible to fraud is a real crock. Credit cards take the prize on this one - just check the stats!

john
March 03, 2024

Your 100% right !!

Colin
March 06, 2024

Absolutely correct! 3 ways to defraud by cheque vs how many electronically?

stefy01
March 02, 2024

I intend to be the very last person in this country to still be using cash.
The card surcharge is meaningless to me.
And every bank/internet outage makes me laugh.

les
March 02, 2024

if i said ill give you a 1.5% or 2% paycut , would that be alright ?? i bet not. Yet, people use the cards and pay that on every transaction !! what is wrong with people ?? anyway, its all about control and data aquisiton.
we have enough scams as it is now !

Geoff
March 03, 2024

Actually, a relatively small proportion of credit card transactions attract a card fee at point of sale.

Annoying perhaps, but at this point anyway, hardly "every transaction" - and people understand that, and so there's nothing "wrong with people ??"

Often smallish businesses with no direct competition selling exactly the same product.

It's not keeping me up at night, nor most other people, I'd think.

Maureen
March 03, 2024

More and more businesses are charging a fee - airlines, councils, restaurants, ticket agencies, small shops such as Bakers Delight, it’s starting to be unusual when a business doesn’t charge

les
March 18, 2024

well, if your not paying a surcharge, then youre already paying for it in increased cost of goods. maybe, there should be a cash discount , then cash users wouldnt be paying for card transactions !

Former CEO of a small financial institution
March 02, 2024

Hey everyone, just because of a paragraph in this piece about cash doesn't mean that anyone in authority is seriously considering getting rid of it. Cheques are dead and buried, but cash will still be used for as long and as much as people choose to use it. The issue is that fewer and fewer do use it. Like me - I rarely have a note or coin on me these days as I've got no use for them. But I'm not everyone.

david edwards
March 01, 2024

Consequences if we go cashless:- the card companies (Visa, Amex, Mastercard) will raise their charges for transactions, AND those charges are levied already on the vendor/business as well as the consumer. Watch the prices rise all over!

Disgruntled
March 01, 2024

Cash is legal tender in this country and should by law, be accepted everywhere without argument.

Companies that choose to go cashless without giving the ability to pay cash instead, should have no rights to charge a surcharge on Electronic or Card payments.

Their choice to go cashless, they wear the costs associated, not the consumer.

MKAdelaide
March 03, 2024

For those who want to keep using cash, it is necessary to note that it costs folk money to give you that pleasure, so be prepared to pay for it.

The fewer of you contributing to that cost, the higher your share will be and so the cost will rise for you.

These are some of the costs to a business receiving cash.
*Having the right amount of change for anyone who proffers a high denomination note for a small purchase (even given the legal restrictions on just how big it can be). This encourages armed robberies, which seem to have increased of late - even for getting small amounts of cash.
* getting any surplus cash into a bank branch is not trivial, given the reduction in branches.
* getting the surplus cash away from the business to the car is a stressful exercise as one is very vulnerable, especially if one has much in the way of coins.
* likewise arriving with the funds for the til.
* the risk of being passed a forged note. In a busy shop this is quite possible.
These risks can be mitigated (but not eliminated) hiring a security firm.

The same risks apply to a bank but on a much larger scale.

There is a problem even for banks moving money to and from branches as the security firms are not making enough from the work. There is an application to the ACCC to allow the banks to cooperate on pricing so as to keep them solvent.

Disgruntled
March 04, 2024

If using electronic pay saves the business owner all that trouble with cash, they should absorb the cost from profits not pass on to consumers. It's a small price to pay for their own benefit.

Whether you accept cash or not, of your preferred position is non cash transactions, you pay for it.

OldbutSane
March 03, 2024

I think you will find that if a business goes cashless it cannot legally impose a card surcharge and I have never come across one that did.

Michael
March 05, 2024

Funny to note that I was (un)lucky enough to be working in banking when they made us start charging the clients for depositing coins. As you can appreciate lots of businesses would take in great amounts of coins. For cost recovery banks started charging for sorting coins and also for 'bagging up' and providing large amounts of coins to businesses. Charging money to provide you with money, and charging you money to take your money. Classic!!!

Bill BrownBill Brown
March 01, 2024

Fyshwick is an industrial suburb here in Canberra. It used to have a branch of each of the four big banks. Now all have gone.
With the exception of certain takeaway establishments, no business in Fyshwick takes cash in payment for goods or services, because as they say, they can't get rid of it.

The banks have had a social licence for almost 150 years or more. They have total disregard for the needs of consumers and the arrogance is just unbelievable. Shareholder value is king and no one in the banks gives a fig.

Wherever that these people control our lives for too long.

Lyn
March 02, 2024

Bill, was Canberra affected by a business- day length of outage late last year? Few with cash to use, bakery /takeaway interviewed, estimate $10,000 takings foregone plus cost of waste unsold food prepared for service.

Dean
March 01, 2024

My wife is one of well over 1 million people who, according to the Macular Degeneration Foundation, suffer from this disorder and cannot read small print so is unable to use a computer or smart phone and therefore cannot use internet banking. She uses cash as most of the other sufferers do, I would imagine. She has never been scammed and, when power outages occur, she can still shop. She can always track her spending and that is rare for people who use credit cards or smart phones for purchases. charity raffles, buskers, children's stalls at markets and the tooth fairy among a host of other worthy causes.
How will people like her manage if cash is phased out? What alternatives is the Government proposing to provide people such as her if cash is discontinued? I am surprised that you would support this trend Noel.

Dean
March 02, 2024

My apologies. The sentence beginning with charity raffles should have been prefixed with the words She can easily support charity raffles etc.

CC
March 01, 2024

The one thing I don't like about cash is the black market that many ( mostly ) tradies do very well out of. Why should some people be paid cash in hand unbeknownst to the ATO whereas I have a substantial slab of my pay taken out as tax PAYG in my payslip before it reaches my bank account ?
My personal income taxes are subsiding those who are paid cash and avoid their fair share of tax. Don't pretend it doesn't happen.

Colin
March 01, 2024

My use of cash has increased as I don't like paying the card surcharge everybody now wants, as banks have increased their charges for card use - who needs to support the banks.

Jeff
February 29, 2024

I use cash wherever possible, though the value of the transaction might be low, the number of them in comparision would exceed 75%, because why do we need to involve a third party in the transaction? We all pay more because of it. The answer to the costs of keeping cash is to add a 0.01% fee on all electronic retail transactions to cover the ongoing cost of providing cash!

Graeme
February 29, 2024

A small point of interest. For many cheques there is no need to go to a branch to deposit—it can be done by scanning in the Westpac app for example.
Also I recently had to do a very large transfer between super funds. It took weeks as it had to be done through a government mandated portal that simply didn’t work for the transfer that we needed. The eventual work around was to transfer several large amounts (my new limit with random number generator security device) to a third super account and then re-transfer from that. A bank cheque would have taken a few hours to organise and take to the super fund and would have been so much easier.

Dudley
February 29, 2024

Do the super fuds allow RTGS?

CC
February 29, 2024

I hardly ever use cash but it would be CRAZY to eliminate it. What happens when the Internet goes down due to power failure or cyberhackers/ terrorism/war ?
People have been left unable to pay at supermarkets because EFTPOS machines are
off line. I once couldn't pay for petrol at a service station because the bank had just suspended my Credit card ( without yet telling me ) due to them detecting an unauthorised attempt by someone to use my CC number .
Fortunately I did have some cash but very often I don't.

Fred Blank
February 29, 2024

Hello, I have read this article with much interest, as a problem with Australia Post no longer receiving a cheque for payment of Post Office Box Rental Service, has caused a considerable problem. Allow me to explain. I am the Treasurer for a not-for-profit Organisation. All payments made by this Organisation require two signature authorisation. Hence, we cannot use Post Billpay for payment of such account. Post Billpay requires entry of a Debtor or Credit Card detail. Because of the two signature authorisation requirement, the Organisation does not have either a Debit or a Credit Card. When Australia Post was made aware of the problem their advice was, pay by cash. Found to be not possible. There is now no longer a Bank in the town and the local branch of Australia Post do not cash cheques. Again Australia Post was contacted, when it became evident that the Organisation had no way of making the payment, since cheques; the long used method of payment was no longer available. Australia Post was requested to supply BSB, Account Number and Account name, so the payment could Be made through the Organisation's Bank Account. Australia Post was not prepared to do this, instead they suggested we get someone else with a Credit or Debit Card to make the payment and seek re-imbursement accordingly, which is what I eventually had to do. Checking around town, I found that the local Tennis Club has had the same problem. This need of now having to get someone else, other than the Organisation to make payments in such circumstances is not 'cricket'. I am less than happy being forced to make payments through my Credit Card, that rightfully should be paid through the Organisations account. Surely they can provide a payment method that caters for two signature authorisation, and stop the humbug that goes with having a private person make payments on behalf of such. There must now be many Organisations, facing this same problem. It needs to be addressed. I am about to have same problem with National Geographic, who apart from Credit Cards, can only accept cheques. Thank you for listening ??

Cutty
February 29, 2024

As the treasurer of a not-for-profit organization, we had the same issue. We have resolved it by having a debit card for the club on which we maintain a very low balance ($200). That is our 'petty cash' card and allows minor payments to be made, or, if a payment over $200 needs to occur, we transfer the required amount into the card. That transfer requires authorisation by 2 account signatories. I just last week paid our post box account using that very method.

OldbutSane
February 29, 2024

I recently destroyed all my cheque books as I had not used them for years. I also bank with almost or totally branchless banks and use the Post Office to get cash out (very infrequently). What annoys me most is that during Covid everyone wanted you to pay by card (especially cafes), now they all slap a credit card fee (which, when I've asked also applies to EFTPOS and debit cards) of 1% or more (they are supposed to charge the lowest card fee, which is usually EFTPOS). Most don't even comply with the law by putting a sign up to say this. It's about time credit card surcharges were banned again as most payments are by card and BNPL schemes don't allow retailers to cover their approximate 4% fee.

Mariki
March 03, 2024

Why should a small business pay your credit card fee. It is your choice to use a credit card. During coved it were a health safety issue.

George B
March 03, 2024

"Why should a small business pay your credit card fee" because its part of the cost of doing business and as somebody else has pointed out ..a relatively small proportion of credit card transactions actually attract a card fee at point of sale ...eg.most big supermarkets and retailers don't pass on a card fee (Aldi is one exception)...so charging a fee may put your business at a competitive disadvantage.

OldbutSane
March 03, 2024

True, which is why I pay cash now. However these businesses were happy to cover the fee when it suited them and now, most have both increased prices and charge the fee. My main issue is that they don't tell you they are charging the fee, which is illegal, but no one seems to police it. They are also happy to cover the cost of dealing in cash!!!

Frank Williams
February 29, 2024

What happens if someone wants to make a large NCC to his superfund. It has to be Bpay transfer. Try contributing $330,000 after the sale of a property .It can be daunting because they don't accept cheques.

All property transactions are conducted via the PEXA platform .You need to give your bank details to your conveyancer, and hope they input the right details into PEXA .

Dudley
February 29, 2024

For transfer of larger amount than daily transfer limit, bank cheques were useful for physical same day transfer between an entities accounts at different banks. Funds were credited the day of deposit, not the day of clearing. ~$10 each.

Made near obsolete by branch-less or branch-few banks.

An alternative is request by telephone for increased online daily limit.
Can take days to be credited in destination account resulting in loss of interest:
= (5% / 366) * 250000
= $34.15 / d.

Real Time Gross Settlement, under two hour transfers, co-existed with bank cheques and is likely to remain available. ~$30 each but no loss of interest.
Not all banks staff know what RTGS is or how to handle it or that it is an under two hour unconditional transfer.
Some banks think they do not have it, a few don't.

Dr David Arelette
February 29, 2024

Cheques are the ultimate safest transfer method - the piece of paper must end up in the hands of your bank - over the years we have had a few fraudsters, always we came back to the original cheque to find where it had been altered and the account and name where it was paid, and we got our money back. Labor has more criminally orientated voters (Liberals want to jail every dope head for 20 years) so this suits their voters. A victory for the scammers.

Davidy
February 29, 2024

Well they may be the 'ultimate safest transfer method' and 'Labor has more criminally orientated voters (eh what does that mean)' but facts don''t change - the RBA says only 0.01% of payments use a cheque !

the suppository of all wisdom
February 29, 2024

The banks no longer keep the original cheque. The cheques are scanned by the bank and then destroyed.

Peter
February 29, 2024

Sigh. I suppose a smack over the ear counts as criminal assault, so therefore I must be a Labor voter. There’s been fraud for millennia since wheat bushels were currency and totems were used to count them. A cheque is a promise to pay, and can be dishonoured by a broken promise. Nothing is totally secure and a medium of exchange is only a method of satisfying both parties in the exchange. What is a concern is the reliance on digital systems. When the Russians have started attacking NATO countries, the fallout will be global, and digital exchange systems may not work. How do we maintain our economy then?

 

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