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Credit Cards Gain Favor in Australia
By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
November 25, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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Statistics can be interpreted to win almost any argument. The current argument centers around if Australia’s coins and bank notes are going out of vogue or not. The answer depends on whom you ask.

According to “The Cashless Journey” published in early October by MasterCard, Australia is the foremost Asian-Pacific region country to be moving away from the use of physical cash. The report indicates Australia is in sixth place globally, behind Belgium, France, Canada, Germany, and Sweden.

The MasterCard report claims 86 percent of consumer payments in Australia do not involve cash. A closer examination of the statistic shows that this figure was calculated using the total value of transactions, not the transaction numbers themselves.

In fact, according to an Oct. 8 The Australian newspaper article, 70 percent of all payments in Australia are still made the old fashion way, using coins and bank notes.

The newspaper article explains consumers use MasterCard, Amex, and Visa credit cards at major department stores, however they request cash back in addition to the sales transaction. “And lots and lots of card users would [ask for cash back], actually leaving the store with more cash than they went in with. So much for the cashless society. The card companies, of course, score from a bit extra in charges on your bank account.”

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The article continues, “They [credit card companies] score again when you grab some notes from an ATM; there’s a charge for that little service, too.”

MasterCard is promoting the idea Australia is trending towards using cash substitutes rather than coins and bank notes for a reason.

According to MasterCard Australasia President Eddie Grobler, “We’re in an exciting position where a cashless future is a genuine possibility for Australia. Through the advancement of contactless payment options like PayPass and digit wallet technology we’re getting ever closer to realizing it.”

According to The Australian, “The payoff for MasterCard and competitors Visa and American Express in cashless services is the bonanza in service fees that would be possible.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge to coins and bank notes is Near-Field Communications or NFC, a technology already available in smartphones. Tap on your mobile device or wave the device at a special reader and the transaction is done automatically. Two NFC-equipped devices can exchange data or money.

When coins or bank notes are used there are no hidden fees. When some form of electronic transfer is used this isn’t true. Whoever wrote the article for The Australian is no fan of modern technology, saying: “More chance, too, for some of the more shameless merchants to pile on surcharges. Many, including some restaurants, taxi companies and airlines, have for years been applying hefty charges for use of existing cards to pay a bill.”

Cash may still be king in Australia for a reason. In November 2012 the consumer advocate group Choice presented Cabcharge with its dubious annual Shonky award for adding a 10 percent surcharge on to fares that were paid with a card rather than in cash. Choice also noted Jetstar was charging an additional $17 on a $70 flight fee between Sydney and Melbourne if a consumer chose to pay using MasterCard or Visa rather than in cold cash.

The card companies may be pushing Australians to use cash less and plastic more, but Australia is far from being alone. In the United States MasterCard is making an effort to get its NFC-enabled PayPass system included in mobile phones – for a fee.

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