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COVID-19 accelerates debit card use, cash decline

28 May 2021


New Australian Banking Association (ABA) analysis of RBA data shows the use of debit cards continues to sharply rise, 17 per cent in 2020, in comparison to cash withdrawals that fell by 10 per cent in the same period, while cheques made up less than 0.5 per cent of all transactions.

ABA Chief Executive Anna Bligh said while debit card usage has been increasing over the last decade, it has been accelerated as a result of the pandemic.

“Debit cards continue to be the number one choice when Australians purchase something in person or online, and that means the majority of us are paying with our savings instead of credit,” Ms Bligh said.

“Australians love new technology. More and more of us are doing our banking online or through apps and we can expect the use of cash to continue its decline in 2021 and the future.”

ABA CEO Anna Bligh

“This trend hasn’t always been the case. In 2006, Australians used credit and debit cards equally. Twelve years later in 2018, Australians used debit cards at almost double the rate of credit cards and just three years later, it’s almost triple.

The increase in the use of debit cards is matched by the decrease in cash withdrawals, which is a valid representation of decline in cash transactions.



“Unsurprisingly, particularly due to stores encouraging cashless transactions throughout the pandemic, the use of cash declined a further ten per cent on the previous year, which is another sign of Australia moving closer and closer to a cashless society,” she said.

“Australians love new technology. More and more of us are doing our banking online or through apps and we can expect the use of cash to continue its decline in 2021 and the future.”

The data also showed the continual decline of cheques, which reduced by almost 40 per cent in 2020 and equated for less than 0.3 per cent of all payment transactions for the year. In 2002, cheques made up 19 per cent of all transactions.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, banks issued 325,000 debit cards to customers who had not previously use them to assist with purchases where cash was not an option


Data: more data on payments, spending and lending influenced by COVID-19

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