Internet banking blackouts amid Lismore floods highlight need for cash

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Signal outages caused by flooding in Lismore rendered ATMs and mobile banking services in the area largely unusable, leaving many residents without access to funds.

The Lismore-based Summerland Credit Union on Monday opened an emergency community banking center at Southern Cross University, located slightly uphill from the worst-hit areas of the CBD.

There, customers can do their daily banking, including withdrawing money from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The Lismore-based mutual has also extended its contact hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., reachable on 1300 802 222.

Summerland opened the hub to five other mutual banks, including BCU, G&C Mutual, Greater Bank, Newcastle Permanent and Southern Cross Credit Union.

Cash withdrawals made with cards from other institutions are also free, and additional ATMs and cash deposits will be rolled out in Northern Rivers towns in the coming days.

Melina Morrison, CEO of the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals, said mutual banks are “the heart and soul of their community”.

“Summerland’s decision to set up a banking center to restore banking services to Lismore and North Rivers not only demonstrates that they put the needs of their customers first, but it also shows the value of local knowledge to respond incredibly quickly and efficiently to local needs,” Ms. Morrison said.

Major banks have largely outsourced the operations of their ATM facilities to Armaguard and Prosegur, which adds another layer of complexity in dispatching emergency cash facilities.

That said, NAB and ANZ are said to have set up temporary banking facilities in shipping containers in downtown Lismore.

NAB’s is dubbed “Bank in a Box”, is open from 9.30am and offers residents the opportunity to chat with a banker and access a full range of banking services via iPad.

ATM withdrawals are free and available 24 hours a day through this service, regardless of the institution.

What is the future of cash payments?

Emergency scenarios can expose the fragility of internet and mobile banking while underscoring the value of cash – as the floods and the situation in Ukraine have demonstrated.

Despite this, Australia has seemed to move ever closer to a cashless society in recent years, but there has been some resistance.

In late 2019, the federal government introduced a bill proposing a ban on cash payments over $10,000.

Those who escaped the ban could have faced up to two years in prison.

However, in December 2020, the bill was defeated by the Senate.

In February, NAB also banned customers from making in-branch payments on their credit card bills.

This sparked controversy and the big bank has since quietly backtracked on the policy.

The RBA data in the graph above shows that the value of ATM withdrawals has fallen sharply over the past 15 years, plunging at the start of the pandemic in March-April 2020.

It then rebounded slightly, with no scientific evidence to suggest Covid transmission via banknotes is greater than any other surface.

The average value of ATM withdrawals has steadily increased, as shown in the graph below.

However, the averages generally increase when the overall numbers decrease.

The impact of flooding on cash withdrawal data is unlikely to be evident until February and March data are released over the next couple of months.


Photo by kingyj at Wikimedia Commons

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