20th March 2017
Before I became a journo, I worked for a credit ratings agency. It was my duty to work out if our clients (companies) were likely to sink or swim in the future (financially).
It was my first full-time job, so I couldn’t wait for pay day.
The management team were old-fashioned, so after my first fortnight of work, I actually received a pay cheque. That’s right, literally, a cheque.
I suspect quite a few Australians would remember their first “pay cheque”. It’s quite a satisfying moment. You get to hold a piece of paper — effectively a note, saying, ‘thanks for all your hard work this past fortnight’.
These days of course, if you work for the government, or a medium to large-sized corporation, your bank account is automatically credited with money every two weeks, or every month (or whenever you get paid).
Given that many of us now get paid this way, it makes sense that, increasingly, this is also the way we spend money. It’s become very convenient.
Or has it? What if the idea of cyber money transfers makes you uncomfortable? Or what if it actually scares you, or makes you anxious?
Scared, anxious and uncertain
Paul Versteege is a spokesperson for the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association, or CPSA. The organisation provides a voice for pensioners.
I put the question straight to Mr Versteege: “Are older Australians ready for what looks like an increasingly cashless society?”
He confirmed that, from his conversation with members, many older Australians are becoming more anxious about a world with much less cash.
So what exactly is the problem? Because for some, the thought of saying goodbye to fumbling around at the cash register for that elusive $2 coin is a welcome relief.
The CPSA says it comes down to trust, wealth, and education.
In terms of trust, the CPSA made the point that, having not grown up with the technology, some older Australians ask, “Who has access to data we enter into this device?” It seems they fear that if the information can travel through the air, then it’s “up for grabs”. That presents serious security concerns.
The next issue relates to how wealthy they are. I’m told many seniors still possess old phones (not smart phones). In many cases it’s because they can’t afford newer model phones. So the idea of having a smart phone digital wallet, for instance, is completely foreign to them.
The final problem is a lack of education. A lack of tech education, that is. The CPSA says many seniors are fearful of who is monitoring their online activity. They don’t trust that what they are doing online, in terms of internet banking and paying bills, is private. I’m told some senior Australians still don’t accept that certified internet banking is ‘safe’, and would prefer to receive a physical letter in the mail.
There is also some anxiety about where technological developments are heading, and whether they’ll be able to keep up with the changing technology. Heck, I find it a challenge myself sometimes.
Adapting to change
The group of Australians mentioned above generally fall into the 75 years of age and above category.
So what about those aged between 55 and 75?
Retiree David Warner (not the cricketer…) falls into this category. He’s 67, and lives in Brisbane.
“If you’re talking to 55-to 75-year-olds who are on top of the technology, I think most would be reasonably comfortable, provided there is the security being offered for those transactions,” he told me.
Indeed, during my research, and talking to people like David Warner and the CPSA, I gather that if family members (or someone at the phone store) provide training, and the technology is understood, most can pick up the technology, and run with it.
Mr Warner did agree though with what Paul Versteege said in terms of quite elderly Australians preferring to use older-style phones, and said it did put them at a big disadvantage in terms of negotiating mobile banking and using a digital wallet.
He also confirmed many of his friends in that older age bracket (75 and above), were concerned about cyber security. For that reason, he said, most older Australians still deal in cash, or have sons and daughters who do their internet banking for them.
The future of money
I want to avoid exaggeration here, but we are witnessing extraordinary change in the way we interact with one another.
We have become a more digital society. The “physical” has been replaced by the “digital”, meaning we can’t touch and feel as many things anymore. For many Australians that raises some security concerns.
You could argue those concerns are completely valid. For example, in the past, someone had to actually physically take a bank cheque off you in order to take your money.
These days, methods of cyber fraud are constantly evolving, and banks are having to work hard to make sure their websites are secure.
At least one leading US investment bank, Wells Fargo, has started rolling out ATMs that dispense cash using only one’s smartphone. No debit or credit card needed!
The bank says it saves carrying around a piece of plastic, but, more importantly, it is a defence against card-skimming techniques that criminals employ to read and store the data on cards inserted into ATMs.
Again though, if this technology moves Down Under, it may be yet another hurdle for older Australians who can’t, or won’t, upgrade their phones.
Relax, pockets set to jingle for a while longer…
In my experience shopping around the Sydney CBD, and downtown, I’ve noticed more small businesses are accepting credit and debit cards for small transactions. One cafe manager in Haymarket, Matthew Welvourne, told me that their decision to allow even the smallest of transactions to go through electronically has given the business quite a boost.
There’s clearly momentum building toward an economy that takes less physical cash.
It’s also clear though that some degree of cash will be around for a long time to come.
Take Elizabeth Knot, for example. I watched her handing over cash, in exchange for her lunch (when EFTPOS was also readily available). She later told me she likes to put an amount of money into her wallet each week, and that way she makes sure she doesn’t spend all of it. Online broking firm, Commsec, confirmed that sort of thinking is particularly prevalent in regional Australia.
Amazing isn’t it, that something that holds very little value in of itself, looks set to withstand one of the greatest social advances of our time?