Aussie shoppers abandoning cash in droves

author-avatar By on June 09, 2020
Aussie shoppers abandoning cash in droves

Photo by Melissa Walker Horn on Unsplash

The latest Reserve Bank data shows a steep decline in the use and withdrawal of cash in April, at the height of fears over the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the RBA's seasonally adjusted data, overall purchasing on both credit cards and debit cards was down in April as well, as people tightened their purse strings with financial insecurity setting in. 

The most notable changes seen in the monthly data related to cash, specifically ATM withdrawals. 

The number of ATM cash withdrawals made by debit cards in April was around 21.5 million, a fall of 28% from March, and down 54% from April 2019.

The total value of these cash withdrawals was $6.16 billion, down 26% month-to-month and 41.55% year-to-year. 

April ATM cash withdrawal data

 Month difference (%)

Year difference (%) 

Total number of cash withdrawals by debit cards

-28.02%

-54%

Total value of cash withdrawals by debit cards

-25.99%

-41.55%

Number of overseas cash withdrawals by debit cards

-39.13%

-81.93%

Total number of cash withdrawals in Australia

-28.10%

-53.50%

Total value of cash withdrawals in Australia

-25.67%

-40.99%

Source: RBA

Cash-out transactions via debit cards plummeted even more significantly, as many businesses stopped offering cash-out temporarily over fears of spreading COVID-19, although recent research by The University of Washington found there is little statistical evidence of the virus spreading through dollar notes. 

The number and value of cash-out transactions fell by a massive 48.81% and 51.17% month-to-month respectively, and over 12 months they both fell by around 61%:

  • The number of cash-out transactions made in April was 6.2 million (down from 12.1 million in March)
  • The value of cash-out transactions was $470.7 million (down from $963.9 million in March)

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Looking at credit cards, the number of cash advances fell sharply too. 

According to the data, the number and value of cash advances in April fell by 28.16% and 33.7% month-on-month respectively, and fell by 44.84% and 25.56% year-on-year, meaning the value of cash advances are roughly where they were a year ago:

  • The number of cash advances was 911,000, down from 1.27 million in March
  • The value of cash advances was $348 million, down by nearly $200 million from March 

Savings.com.au's analysis of the data shows that the monthly number of cash advances fell below one million for the first time since the RBA started recording credit card data in 1985. 

The lack of willingness to use cash, aside from COVID-19 fears, may have also been caused by the increased tap and pay limit of $200 (up from $100) introduced by the Australian Payments Network (APN) at the start of April. 

The lack of cash use is a trend that will continue in the May data next month, as more recent figures by Commonwealth Bank saw another mammoth drop

Notable cash-out and cash advance data: RBA

Month difference (%)

Year difference (%) 

Number of cash-out transactions (debit)

-48.81%

-61.06%

Value of cash-out transactions (debit)

-51.17%

-60.85%

Number of cash advances (credit card)

-28.16%

-45.64%

Value of cash advances (credit card)

-33.7%

-44.84%

Overall card spending down 

It isn't just cash spending that's down - the number and value of purchases made on both debit and credit cards fell majorly too, in line with the record falls seen in Australian retail turnover in April. 

The number of debit card purchases from March to April fell by 20%, while the value of these purchases fell by just over 16%. Over the 12-months to April 2020, the number and value of debit card transactions fell by almost 13% and 7.7% respectively. 

Credit cards saw even sharper falls in purchases. 

According to the RBA's data, the number of credit card purchases fell by 26.6% monthly and 25.5% yearly, while the value of these purchases fell by similar numbers (22.5% and 28.7%). 

Interestingly, card-not-present transactions (aka purchases made without physically using the card, such as through mobile wallets like Apple Pay), were one of the few transaction types to see an increase.  

The number of card-not-present transactions in Australia rose by 1.80% from March to April to 85.7 million, and has risen by just over 13% year-on-year. 

Data from Mastercard in late April found eight in ten (79%) of Australians agree contactless payments are a cleaner way to pay, with a quarter of Australians using their mobile phones to pay. 

Notable credit and debit card spending data: RBA

Month difference (%)

Year difference (%) 

Number of purchases (debit cards)

-20.02% -12.89%

Value of purchases (debit cards) 

-16.11% -7.70%

Number of purchases (credit cards)

-26.65%

-25.46%

Value of purchases (credit cards)

-22.58%

-28.68%


Number of transactions: Device not present

+1.80%

+13.05%


Value of transactions: Device not present

+8.53% +14.06%

Credit card debt continues to fall 

January's credit card data from the RBA showed a 10% decline in debt (balances accruing interest) over 12 months. 

That downwards trend has continued in April, with balances accruing interest falling almost 4% from March 2020 and 14.79% from April 2019. 

The total amount of credit card debt held by Australians now stands at around $26.7 billion, while 12 months ago that figure was more than $31 billion. 

Data released by illion and Alphabeta last week found 14% of those who'd accessed their super during COVID-19 did so to pay down personal debts, which may go some way to explain the sharp monthly fall in credit card balances accruing interest. 

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author-avatar
William Jolly joined Savings.com.au as a Financial Journalist in 2018, after spending two years at financial research firm Canstar. In William's articles, you're likely to find complex financial topics and products broken down into everyday language. He is deeply passionate about improving the financial literacy of Australians and providing them with resources on how to save money in their everyday lives.

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