Queensland Businesses Mull Cashless Transition for Employee Safety Amid Rising Burglaries

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Queensland small businesses are mulling over the idea of going cashless, though not to accommodate rising consumer demand or to cut labor costs but primarily to ensure the safety of their employees. Annee’s, a coffee franchise running five cafes scattered around North Queensland, is leading the pack in this potential transition into a cashless system.

Annee Nguyen, the owner of the franchise, shares that their decision pivoted on an unfortunate burglary event, which not only led to damaged property but also jeopardized the safety of young team members sharing the space. Whereas other small businesses, despite observing a significant decline in cash transactions amid the pandemic, worry that forgoing cash entirely could dissuade their customers due to the inherent risks of criminal activities.

Brisbane’s Tribe Coffee Co. suffered a similar ordeal when it was allegedly held up by teenagers in a morning robbery at its Ascot store, earlier in July. The owner, Mark Hardingham, says the young robbers, armed with a rifle and pistol, threatened a female worker who was opening up the cafe at 6 AM. Instead of forcing her to unlock the doors, they seized her bag and swiftly fled the scene.

Since then, Hardingham, who also owns two other outlets in Brisbane, reveals that his female staff have resisted working at the Ascot branch. Witnessing such terrifying incidents can leave morale at low ebb, especially when the owner strives to cultivate a safe work environment. The trader also battles the challenge of drawing in staff, who feel insecure about their security.

To make matters worse, the Ascot store faced another break-in attempt a fortnight ago, though unsuccessful. Hardingham expresses his worries over an uptrend in break-ins, stating that someone attempts unlawfully to enter one of his properties every few months. Where these instances could often be brushed off as trivial mischief, the rising frequency does raise concerns for the local businesses.

With dwindling cash transactions, several businesses are starting to weigh the risk-benefit ratio of keeping any cash on the premises amid fears of attracting opportunistic criminal behavior. Over the three years leading up to 2022, the Reserve Bank of Australia noted that in-person cash payments had halved, falling from 32% to 16%. The sharper fall in recent times can be largely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proportion of Australian citizens, known as “low cash users,” who use cash for just 20% of their in-person expenses soared to 72% in 2022 from 50% in 2019. Even though approximately only a fifth of Hardingham’s customers pay cash, he remains reluctant to transition entirely to a digital payment system, for fears of upsetting and subsequently losing his clients, particularly the older demographic.

While Hardingham harbors no intentions of going cashless anytime soon, he expresses his understanding for businesses that choose to move in that direction. For a business with small transactions, like his, the rationale behind keeping considerable sums of cash on-site isn’t justified. Moreover, just a quarter of the population would face considerable inconvenience if cash payments were made difficult, indicating that cash being indispensable for some Australians is now a fading reality, as per the RBA.

In a groundbreaking step, Macquarie Bank announced last week that it aims to go cashless across all its branches by November 2024. Currently, a staggering 99% of all customer interactions with banks take place digitally.

While the move towards a cashless society can potentially usher in enhanced safety and convenience, concerns are ramping up that it might disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those living with disabilities, who might have a harder time integrating into a predominantly digital monetary system.

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