Visa has developed a digital payments solution for charity street vendors to collect card payments on the go and combat an increasingly cashless Australian society. “AirPay” is a point of sale device small enough to be carried on a lanyard and will allow charities like The Big Issue to accept electronic payments.

The hardware, developed by Quest Payment Systems in partnership with Visa and NAB, supports The Big Issue’s move to enable 250 of its street vendors to accept digital payments and keep up with its customers.

The Big Issue vendors buy magazines from the organisation for $3.50 and then on-sell to the public for $7, allowing the homeless an instant source of income. The organisation claims more than 11 million magazines have been sold since 1996, putting $27 million into the pockets of disadvantaged Australians.

However, sales have begun to slip, according to the non-profit organisation, as many customers no longer carry the physical money needed to purchase a magazine.

But through AirPay, The Big Issue customers will now be able to donate or make purchases using contactless payments or using QR codes and the Beem It app.

“As a social enterprise, digital payments need to support and empower our street vendors and at the same time ensure security and protection of customers’ data,” said Steven Persson, CEO of The Big Issue.

“Finding the right digital payment solutions for Big Issue vendors and our customers has been crucial. There were many factors we took into account; from money being quickly available to vendors, to affordable technology, and from ease of use to reliability.”

The organisation’s vendors believe digital payments will make the magazine more accessible to people who may no longer be carrying cash.

“When you’re homeless you become so marginalised,” said Rachel, who sells The Big Issue at Pyrmont in Sydney.

“The Big Issue means I’m part of the community, and digital payments is another step forward because everyone is using digital payments.”

The AirPay technology is available to other interested charitable organisations, according to Visa.

A big issue

As Australia becomes increasingly cashless, those more reliant on physical money risk being excluded from parts of the economy, potentially creating a two tiered society. The rate of change is also faster than many expected. In 2010 69 per cent of cash purchases under $10,000 were made with cash, according to The New Daily. By 2016, the latest available figures, the share had fallen to just 37 per cent and is likely closer to 30 per cent by now.

Often the lack of cash hurts those on the fringes of society more. Sweden, the nation least reliant on physical cash, has expressed concerns its shift may be being happening too quickly, led by vendors rather than the population. Sweden fears groups like the elderly or the homeless will be disproportionately disadvantaged in a cashless society.

In Australia, those groups are feeling the pinch too.

“Since tap-and-go has become prevalent in Australia, many of our vendors have found that people are carrying less and less cash, which is affecting their magazine sales,” said The Big Issues COO, Sally Hines, in an ABC analysis of the topic.

The problem led the organisation to begin investigating digital payments solutions, eventually partnering with Visa for the AirPay solution.

The area of contactless payments is surging, according to Julian Potter, Visa’s Group Country Manager for Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific, who said 94 per cent of Visa’s face-to-face transactions are now contactless and the number of contactless donations made in Australia using Quest Donation Point Tap terminals has tripled in the past 12 months.

The finance industry has a responsibility to ensure charity organisations can adapt to the trend, he said.

“It’s not just about working with terminal providers and manufacturers,” Potter said.

“This is a whole of ecosystem approach. Once devices are certified as meeting the necessary security standards, there is a role for financial institutions to enable their charity customers to accept pre-set contactless donations.”

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