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Our changing ATM habits show the slow decline of cash


We hit "peak ATM" back in 2008. Who needs actual money any more?

When every financial institution offers contactless NFC payments on credit and debit cards and an increasing number also support paying through your smartphone, it's not surprising that we're pulling less cash than we used to out of automatic teller machines (ATMs).

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) tracks the total amount of money Australians withdraw from ATMs each month. In March 2016, that added up to $11.6 billion, which is a very long way from being small change. However, as you can see in the chart below, there has been a gradual decline in the total amount we withdraw each month in recent years.

We reached "peak ATM" back in December 2008, when $14.8 billion was withdrawn. (The Christmas season typically sees the highest figure for each calendar year, which is no surprise what with all that shopping and partying). Since then, there has been a notable decline in the amount we withdraw, despite the fact that inflation means the total amounts we'll need if we do want cash is likely to be higher.

I don't expect that we'll see physical currency disappear in my lifetime. Heck, the Reserve Bank has even announced plans for a new design for the $5 note, which will officially make it the world's ugliest currency. And we're still seeing ATMs pop up in some extremely remote locations.

Nonetheless, I'll be using less and less of it. On the first day of my Ultimate Opal Hack odyssey, I was forced to deploy actual money just once: buying a Coke Zero from a vending machine at Hamilton station. Even then, I only used coins because the NFC reader on the machine wasn't working.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on

Picture: TK Kurikawa /

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