Recent data shows Australian non-cash activity overtaking cash transactions for the first time. These days almost every economic act other than a small consumer purchase requires an electronic transfer of value through the payment system by card, direct credit, direct debit, BPAY or some other method. This means that the payment system has become to the economy what your arteries and veins are to you – critical for economic health. One might think, then, that keeping the payment system “fit” (that is, secure, efficient and competitive) would be the subject of a well-developed “health plan”. Curiously, in many countries this has not been the case.
Today electronic payments are the norm in Australia. In the direct entry system, there are about 7 million items per day equal to about $45 billion. Employers and governments use direct entry to pay wages and benefits, while individuals use direct entry to pay for goods and services through direct debits and internet banking. These direct entry payments, which include direct credit and direct debit, account for 96 per cent of non-cash value (excluding high value payments) and about one-third of the number of non-cash payments. From these figures, one would suspect that Australians are reasonably prolific users of electronic payments, which stands in contrast to some commentary that Australia is somehow “lagging behind” other countries in this respect.