Just as Qantas stopped momentarily making headlines for being “out of touch” with its staff and customers, enter Macquarie Bank which is currently dominating news pages over its plans to make banking almost impossible for thousands of people.
Phasing out cash
The bank has announced that it will begin phasing out cash, cheques and phone payments for customers by the end of this year and move to “digital only” systems.
Adding ire to already disgruntled customers, it has also ended its partnership with NAB, which enables customers who are unable to access a Macquarie Bank branch, to use the NAB instead.
Macquarie Bank is touting the move as a “safer, faster and more convenient way to bank” but that’s a hard pill to swallow for so many who’ve been caught up in recent data breaches at some of Australia’s biggest organisations, including Optus, Woolworths and Medibank.
Cybersecurity issues have been, and are, a serious concern. The Australian Federal Police and other government organisations have been the most recent target of a cyber attack, and it’s believed that employee information has been placed on the dark web including AFP officers’ identities and email addresses.
Threats from organised cyber-criminals are every present, and cyber experts have long warned that Australia’s protection against cyber security is simply not sophisticated enough to deal with the new and innovative ways that those with nefarious intentions are finding to hack systems and steal data.
Data breaches and identity theft
Data breaches can lead to identity theft, which can be impossible to recover from. And, as recent victims of cyber breaches can attest, there is little within current laws to meaningfully protect citizens who are expected to entrust personal data to large organisations, although there are now separate class actions underway against both Optus and Medibank.
In recent weeks, a Victorian couple claimed to have lost $90,000 into ‘thin air’ via a Commonwealth Bank transaction. The bank is telling a different story.
But the point that many seems to have missed is that the couple resorted to a media campaign on the advice of their lawyer after not getting any answers from CBA. That campaign led to online abuse against the couple, adding to their victimisation.
They allege that the bank took five weeks to conduct a probe and respond to their request for an investigation.
It’s getting harder to access your own money
Dealing with online banking representatives, often after waiting in long queues to do so or communicating via chat bot on a website or through an app can be incredibly frustrating and stressful, and yet, despite raking in massive annual profits, banks are continually closing branches and cutting services, essentially, making it harder for people to access their own money.
The Reserve Bank (which produces notes and coins) has not yet commented on the move by Macquarie Bank, although the transition to a ‘cashless’ society has been mooted at a Federal level for some time, and it feels like with Macquarie Bank now making a move, other banks will inevitably follow suit and possibly fairly quickly, without any real consultation with customers.
Another nail in the coffin for privacy
Our spending privacy is becoming increasingly compromised – most of the big banks now require a “reason” or “explanation” when you withdraw large sums of cash.
Comedians have been having field day, but it does of course, beg questions around confidentiality. If it is your own money, why do you have to justify to the bank how you want to spend it?
Moving to wholly digital model means that all spending will leave a digital footprint, which further erodes privacy, and it does raise concerns around whether or not that footprint can be monitored, by whom, and whether or not it might be harvested or tracked by big businesses or government agencies who have a vested interest in understanding your personal spending habits.
Of course, this is already happening to a degree – there have been incremental changes over time. But we must now call on the government and the legal experts to ensure that consumers are protected by law as the transition comes closer.
We still need a choice
There are other issues to consider too – one of the most serious is that many of the more disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our society along with those who live in remote and rural areas don’t always have access to reliable internet to do their banking.
There are also serious concerns for elderly people – many are not digital savvy – some don’t have any computers or mobile phones, let alone internet or mobile connectivity.
What about times of natural disasters such as fires and floods? When internet services stop working, leaving people without a way to pay for emergency essentials?
When unprecedented floods hit Northern New South Wales in early 2022 both internet and mobile services were down for the best part of a fortnight and patchy for a long time afterwards. Floods actually destroyed many of the ATM machines and bank branches. People were left to rely on heavily burdened support services and the kindness of strangers just to be able to eat.
These are real problems – obviously not the kind of problems that senior executives in ivory towers need to deal with and therefore seem to get little consideration.
Cash matters to a lot of Australians – it’s often easier to manage spending with cash than with swipes and taps and paying via a phone. We expect to be able to retain control over our own money and the freedom to spend it how we like.
We should still be entitled to a choice – this is, after all, a democracy.