The Optus blackout proves that a small glitch in the system can cause total mayhem in a cashless society…
Modern technology is a wonderful thing … until it isn’t.
Australians experienced that truism when telco giant Optus had a substantial outage on Nov. 8, resulting in a stop to call services and any bank card transactions for several hours.
In short, the mayhem, frustration, and missed opportunities piled up in all quarters.
Some businesses, like the call centres for the banks, may have breathed a sigh of relief given they could not field calls from concerned customers after they suffered another 0.25 percent interest rate hike the day before, courtesy of the Reserve Bank of Australia.
However, for most people and small businesses, it spelled disaster. The ever so convenient “tap and go” method of making payment was removed. And without warning.
It’s a timely reminder to us all that carrying cash may be a sensible thing to do for occasions such as that experienced on Nov. 8.
Such outages have happened in the past and will happen in the future. So the wise counsel is to be prepared.
Speaking of which, it is making more and more sense to use cash as retailers and banks continue charging for the use of cards and “tap and go”—to which we were all seduced by its ease and promised “no extra costs.”
Remember when Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) delivered you cash free of charge because it saved the bank from paying wages?
Tap and go sped things up considerably for the customer, the business, and the bank. It was less labour intensive and created new savings for businesses and banks (particularly during COVID-19 we were all encouraged not to use cash because of its propensity to transmit germs).
Yet once enough of us had been lured into ATMs, rather than real live human tellers behind a counter in a local branch, banking staff was then cut and branches closed. Then, fees started to be charged at the ATM.
People queue for ATM machines outside a branch of the Commonwealth Bank in Melbourne on Aug. 8, 2018. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)
An Extra Price to Pay
Fast forward to today and the surcharges for paying with a card have been quietly introduced, meaning that the supposed “savings” for customers were now being ignored.
The surcharges vary but can be as high as a few percent on a total transaction.
In a period of cost of living pressures, those extra gouged percentages can be avoided by paying cash. A saving that could place literally hundreds of dollars back into the family budget.
Surely, the cost of a cashless transaction is far less than one that involves receiving money from the customer, giving change, balancing the till at the end of the day, and taking the proceeds to the bank for depositing.
Further, tap and go often makes the customer oblivious to what they are actually paying for. In the past, the customer would have had to dig a bit deeper into his pocket and pull out an extra coin or note making a person a lot more price aware and the merchant more self-conscious about increasing prices.
Supplied image of people using a new contactless payment app designed by Optus on a smartphone at a retailer in Sydney, Australia, on Nov. 13, 2014. (AAP Image/Fuel Communications, Optus)
From a privacy point of view, cash payments allow purchases to be made without traceability as well. But in that case, it is important to ask for a receipt as proof of purchase may become necessary.
With the federal government’s ham-fisted announcement that it will shortly outlaw cheques, it is more important than ever that the public retains access to cash and that cash transactions be accepted by all merchants.
The removal of cash from the economy will give unprecedented power to the banking institutions, as they will be able to control all transactions other than bartering.
The Royal Commission into the Australian banking sector exposed the power exercised and the moral free zone it became as profits were pursued in an ethics-free environment. It is doubtful that with even more market power, there would be a commensurate enhancement of moral and ethical standards.
The Australian Mint has announced that by Christmas 2023 the visage of the king of Australia, King Charles III, will start appearing on local currency.
This a timely reminder that cash is king and it is in every Australian’s interest to ensure it remains a viable method to undertake transactions, besides potentially saving hundreds of dollars each year.