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In a further sign that Australia is slowly but surely heading toward a cashless society, Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has confirmed that it has given its approval for the leading Australian banks to sell off their ATM holdings.

This move should mean that a new utility enterprise will pick all the ATMs up, and although most of them will stay where they are, they will no longer feature bank imagery and color schemes. They will instead be under the operation of one company that will retain sole responsibility.

Cash machines are fairly expensive to maintain, especially because there are thousands of them around the country. As they all need upkeeping, they do not necessarily benefit the banks that operate them. Many Australians now use card payments for most of their daily habits, so there are fewer reasons for banks to stretch their resources just to keep the ATMs.

The general opinion is that removing these machines would be a step too far and that many of the older generation, who are known to suffer from digital isolation, could be at a disadvantage from such a decision.

RBA has said that although this is true, the banks do not need to be the ones that carry on operating the ATMs. Given that the central bank is the one producing banknotes and making sure that payment systems work as they should, its permission is significant.

One clearly recognizable new utility player will hopefully take over the branding of all the ATMs to clarify when the changeover happens.

The financial industry received confirmation of this news at the Australian Payments Summit from Tony Richards, Head of RBA’s Payments Policy Department. He told his audience that a national ATM system makes the most sense and would ensure that cash withdrawal facilities are available for those who need them. As both leading institutions and smaller independent enterprises pull away from cash transactions, banks can carry on working with cashless technology without worrying about an overnight culture shock due to the removal of ATMs.

Richards said that ‘banks and non-bank deployers have begun rationalizing their fleet,’ adding: ‘Policy concerns could arise if there was a significant decline in ATM coverage that made it difficult for people to access cash, particularly in remote or regional locations.’

He suggested the implementation of ‘some form of industry utility’ as a way of enforcing ‘sensible consolidation’ of the current network. Richards believes that this move ‘could result in a more efficient and sustainable ATM industry.’ He also said that RBA will maintain an open mind throughout the process in order to secure the most beneficial transition possible for the majority of Australians as well as the institutions running the country.

One interesting issue revolves around just how much cash remains in circulation. RBA Governor Philip Lowe said that there is more cash moving than ever, even though withdrawals are down, and electronic payments are up. This indicates that the average Australian hoards a fair amount that no trackable system is holding.