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Will COVID-19 break New Zealand's cash habit?
Tue, 31st Mar 2020
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Despite the majority of local businesses that remain open during the current COVID-19 lockdown introducing card-only transactions, the majority of New Zealanders still carry cash - a habit that may be hard to break, according to a new study from MYOB.

While New Zealand is locked down for all but essential services, cash handling has become an increased focus for businesses seeking to limit exposure for staff to coronavirus. However, the research from MYOB has found 53% of Kiwis usually carry cash.

MYOB NZ country manager Ingrid Cronin-Knight says while most local businesses that remain open are now seeking to go to card-only transactions, it is important to recognise that many New Zealanders still rely on cash for a range of transactions.

"Surprisingly, many New Zealanders are still in the habit of carrying cash, with a small but significant number relying on it for regular payments," says Cronin-Knight.

"So any strategy to reduce reliance on cash in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 will need to be accompanied by a comprehensive education campaign," she says.

According to MYOB's survey of over 1,000 consumers around the country, 12% of New Zealanders use cash most of the time, while half sometimes make purchases using cash.

Carrying cash is more common for older people, with 61% of people aged 56 to 74 and 75% of those aged over 75 usually having cash on them. Half of all 18 to 25 years olds regularly carry cash, and 16% of this age group use it most of the time.

According to the survey, cash is most commonly used for entertainment, with 17% paying at bars restaurants, cafes and events using cash. However, 13% use cash to pay for groceries, which may create an issue for essential service retailers such as supermarkets.

"While experts have been predicting the end of cash for some time, it is a well ingrained habit," says Cronin-Knight.

"Survey respondents also told us they prefer to use cash to reduce bank fees and surcharges, and to avoid eftpos minimums," she explains.

But interestingly, about 55% of respondents say they just like the tangible feel of paying with cash.

Cronin-Knight says it is likely one of the many changes the COVID-19 pandemic brings is a significant reduction in the use of cash.

"But how this is managed will need to be carefully considered, especially to avoid further restricting and isolating older people who regularly use cash, and to recognise that many of us prefer to have a cash reserve on hand for emergencies especially in times like this," she says.

"Efforts like the banks move to reduce costs for retailers to use contactless payment systems will likely help make those more widespread, but the cost of transaction fees are also something that is holding New Zealanders back from using their cards more frequently."