SYDNEY - Australia has not gone entirely "cashless", but it is heading that way in a hurry.
This trend is borne out by the fewer - and also smaller - cash withdrawals at ATMs in the past five years, with Australians preferring the "contactless" swipe of their credit cards or digital wallets.
In May, they made 6.8 million ATM withdrawals, down 7 per cent over the same period in 2008, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia. They also took out smaller sums each time. The withdrawal amount hit a low of A$89.53 (S$103) last year.
The shift marks a growing usage of new technologies that allow easy and faster payments by credit or debit cards. The most pervasive has been the widespread rollout of "contactless" or touch-and-go card payments now available in retail outlets from supermarkets to fast-food outlets and hardware stores.
The country's top retail body, the Australian Retailers Association, said the move away from cash will accelerate as new technologies emerge.
"We are not yet a cashless society as such but we are a long way closer to it than we were a year ago," its executive director, Mr Russell Zimmerman, told The Sunday Times.
For retailers, not having to keep more cash in their stores means they save on insurance, labour and security costs, he added.
Payment by cheque is also becoming a thing of the past, with volumes down more than 60 per cent over the past decade. This has led the Australian Payments Clearing Association, an industry body for payments service providers, to predict that "cheques will no longer be used in Australia in 2018".
Indeed, surveys show that most Australians - particularly younger people - want less cash and more technology.
A poll by Newspoll last October found that 79 per cent of Australians were comfortable with the prospect of fingerprint technology replacing their banking PIN and 38 per cent would prefer to live in a cashless world.
Most analysts believe the next big step away from cash will be the use of digital wallets, which allow credit cards to be stored in digital form on smartphones or other mobile devices. Visa has announced plans to introduce a digital wallet, V.me, by the end of the year.
"Henceforth, some folk have suggested, there'll be no need to carry a leather wallet at all. Don't believe it," Mr David Frith, a technology commentator, wrote in The Australian newspaper.
He is right - at least in the area of public transport, where cash is still a must. This is mainly because Australian states, which run their own transport systems, have run into technology problems while trying to introduce one-card payment systems.
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