/ Money

Banks must commit to maintaining cash: my open letter

We’re urging the UK’s eight largest retail banks to publicly commit to maintaining cash. This is my open letter to each of them explaining why.

29/01/2021

FAO: HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide Building Society, NatWest, Santander UK, Barclays, TSB, Halifax.

In recent years we have seen seismic changes in retail banking and the UK’s cash infrastructure. The innovation that has allowed millions of consumers to enjoy the convenience of contactless payments and 24/7 access to their bank account via the mobile phone in their pocket has benefitted many. 

It is clear, however, that cash is still an important lifeline for millions of people across the UK, with our latest research finding 10 million people are not ready or able to give it up. As you will be aware from your own customers, many older or more vulnerable people rely on cash as a means of budgeting or managing payments.

Worryingly, COVID-19 has placed unprecedented strain on the cash system that was already perilously close to collapse.  

We welcome the industry, regulators and government reaching consensus to take action on the UK’s slide towards a cashless society that risks financially excluding these people – culminating in the Chancellor’s commitment in the 2020 Budget to legislation.

However, a year on, there is a very real risk that the cash network could fail before legislation arrives, with many ATMs and bank branches continuing to close across the UK without clear assurance that the changes truly meet the needs of consumers. 

This can be easily prevented. There is a real opportunity to guarantee the stability of the existing network while discussions around legislation continue. In particular, major banks can continue to support  the ATM and Post Office banking networks, which are critical to protecting current provision of cash withdrawal and basic banking services for millions of people across the UK.

The collapse of these networks will make it extremely difficult and, in some cases impossible, to reintroduce access to cash in some communities. 

Urgent steps must be taken to ensure that irreversible damage is not caused to the cash system until longer term protections are agreed. As such Which? is calling on the UK’s eight largest retail banks to publicly agree to: 

Continued membership of LINK, until legislation is passed and until a framework to protect access to cash has been implemented. This will ensure that both the Financial Inclusion and Protected ATM programmes will remain in place and will also guarantee the existence of LINK in the interim.

Continued membership of the Post Office Banking Framework, until legislation is passed and until a framework to protect access to cash has been implemented. This will ensure that the Post Office remains a viable back-up for communities that continue to lose ATMs and physical bank branches. It is clear that there is a large role for the Post Office to play in securing future access to cash, particularly in rural areas. As such, the Banking Framework must have guaranteed support and buy-in from industry until a long-term solution is in place.

These measures are not the antidote to all of the issues with the cash system, but they are critically important to secure the existing infrastructure in the interim.

The industry undoubtedly has an important role to play in developing a framework for a responsible and sustainably managed transition to digital and I urge you to recognise that banks’ individual commercial decisions can have a profound impact on the wider cash ecosystem. 

Your public commitment to both the Post Office and LINK will bring much needed stability to the cash system while long-term solutions are put in place. I look forward to receiving your responses in the next two weeks

Yours sincerely, 

Anabel Hoult.

05/02/2021: Update

Comments

Cash is king, Credit cards are not, this leads to escalating dept. learning to live within our means is a lesson we should Heed.

Credit cards do not lead to escalating debt if they are used purely as a means of payment and not as a means of borrowing, similar to how a charge card must be used. As Martin Lewis often says very vocally, you should always pay your credit card bill “IN FULL“!

I have used credit cards for all my card expenditure since I was 18, and have never paid interest. It is madness not to pay one’s bill in full every month. If one needs to borrow money, there are plenty of better options. A credit card, used wisely, is an excellent means of payment, not least in view of the substantial rewards that one receives, which have funded many of my business class and first class flights around the world.

I agree about the way to use credit cards. I pay mine every month also plus the statement of all my purchases (and occasional refunds) is invaluable when I come to balance accounts on MS Money. This also provides a useful record of when something was bought – if it develops a fault or if you want to reorder for example.

However, like BNPL, credit cards can tempt people into buying more than they intend, and more than they can afford, because you can “spread” the payments well into the future. But if you can’t afford it, the future won’t help, particularly as the very high interest charges begin to rack up. £1.5bn of written off credit card debt in the UK in 2018; I hope I have the correct figure.

Mine are paid by direct debit. I presume that credit card interest rates are so high is because of the period of interest free credit, companies writing off debts, making S75 refunds and paying for credit card perks.

I avoid using direct debit as much as possible, especially for paying my UK credit cards. I do use it to pay my German and US credit cards though – in Germany because that’s the norm and card issuers won’t accept manual payments, and in the US because there is a negative delay between the date that the payment is taken from my bank account and the date that it is credited to my card account.

Absolutely agree. I prefer to pay by cash, but I don’t have big bills to pay

Lucy says:
2 February 2021

I’m fortunate enough to have options including a mobile phone & access to the internet. Whilst I choose not to pay for anything via my mobile, my main concern is that there can be an assumption that everyone has a phone or a computer enabling them to do banking. In certain demographics, if the banks (for general banking), their own cash machines (for cash/deposits) or any other cash machines (cash only) aren’t availble, these people are going to really struggle. They’re going to have to travel further at more cost just to get access to their own money.

My particularly large demographic, born in the 1945-50 period, are now advancing into later life and, whereas many of us are more or less keeping up with new technology and new ways of doing things, I cannot see this continuing into old age where other health and lifestyle factors will inhibit the aptitude to do so. The expense could become prohibitive to start with and the decline in mental [or cognitive] acuity could become a problem for many. Some of us, but not all by any means, will have nearby relatives who can probably assist or do things on-line for us, but I find the future rather worrying as the assumption grows that everyone in the country is able to operate via the internet and where alternatives, like a physical presence or a competent telephone response, are disappearing rapidly.

Last week we called on the eight largest banks to confirm their commitment to the cash system, by guaranteeing membership of LINK and the Post Office Banking Framework until legislation protecting access is introduced.

As Anabel explains above, these two schemes are critical to the provision of access to cash and basic banking services for consumers and if one of the banks we wrote to were to leave, both would be in jeopardy, leaving many at risk of being cut off from society.

One week on, we wanted to thank the two banks that have – so far – responded to our calls, confirming their commitment to both schemes and in doing so, pledging their support to #ProtectCash for the millions of people in the UK who rely on it.

However, we’re still facing a cash crisis unless all banks unite together.

With one week left to respond, we encourage others to take this opportunity to protect the cash system and cash dependent consumers.

Camilla, thanks for the update. Let’s hope that the remaining six banks follow the lead of the first two.

As this (and related) conversations have shown, many consumers still value the option of paying by cash, while for some transactions or for some consumers, there are no viable alternatives.

They should be giving us a service not us pleading with them too. Why should people suffer because they dont want to give this service .If the other Banks dont agree to cash being king do the walk we all cash does the talk

Is there a case of charging bank customers for the services that they use?

I suggest avoiding a system like in Germany where the norm is to pay account maintenance fees for even the most basic current accounts. Equally I suggest avoiding a system like in France where cheques are processed for free but debit cards incur a hefty annual fee.

Banks make money out of processing debit card payments, but they incur costs for providing cash withdrawals and processing cheques. Therefore is there a case for UK banks to charge for cash withdrawals and for processing cheques? This would ensure that those who need these services would fund them instead of being subsidised by those who never use them via lower interest rates and 3% non-GBP card fees.

While the costs of operating cash machines remain static, the number of withdrawals decreases and so the average cost to the banks of each withdrawal increases. I realise that many consumers will not want to give up the ability to make cash withdrawals for free, but if some bank customers are so insistent on using cash, shouldn’t they contribute more directly towards the operating costs of the cash machines that they choose to use?

I think there is a case for banks charging for their private customer services. So we could pay for what we use. I suspect many would resist that but we do, of course, pay for them indirectly through high overdraft charges, interest on mortgages and other loans, for example; nothing is free. Post offices offer basic banking services and these could be charged back via the customers bank, or we could leave some services not charged, but then they would be subsidised by someone else.

One problem I expect to see raised is that we have all, for many years, been made to rely on banks as repositories and handlers of our money from employment and benefits for example. Some see in view of this it is their right to have the banks deal with them for free; but who do they expect to pay for all the bank infrastructure and staff necessary to do this? Someone else? Out of profits – that impacts interest rates for example so some will pay more in loans? It needs funding from somewhere. Just as purchases cost everyone a little more because retailers have to pay credit card fees.

Most free-to-use ATM transactions are paid for by the banks. Should not those who use them pay a fee for their provision and maintenance? Or should we all contribute to the costs? Many would have the choice of making, say, one monthly withdrawal and avoiding multiple fees. The convenience of many ATMs is that it avoids a trip to a bank or post office, incurring travelling costs and parking perhaps, so they can be seen as saving people money? Even a pay-to-use charge can be offset against maybe £2 or £3 travel cost, but I doubt many would see it that way.

I am not proposing any of these measures but we do have to understand that costs are involved and must be recovered from somewhere. then decide the best system that is fair to all, and helps the vulnerable to boot.

We must keep cash no matter what – we must stick together on this – Which have recently highlighted examples where shops card facilities have gone down, thus cash being vital. If cash disappears it’s gone forever and we have no idea what may come further down the track. Cash, cards and cheques have always worked well together. As the saying goes….. if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Don’t particularly see a cash crisis however, I can see a cap on the amount of credit you can hold in a current account. Anything more, and you will have to pay for the privilege. Where are you going to put your short term savings if and when we move into negative interest rates?

In respect of negative interest rates in the Eurozone, banks typically charge a fee only for balances above €100k. So the simple answer is to hold balances in multiple banks to avoid exceeding €100k in any one bank. One should always do this anyway because €100k is also the deposit protection limit, which is translated to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme’s £85k limit in the UK. Otherwise get a fixed-rate fixed-term deposit.

I’m hoping loans will be made available with negative interest rates. 😀

A recent letter to the letters page of the Daily Mail cites a case of a small hardware shop who felt they had to accept card payments due to the pandemic. The fees stated for phone and transaction fees come to £700 per month. I know nothing about running a business, however this seems pretty steep to me. I wonder what they might have been when cards were less widely used. It would seem to me that if we go cashless, this would surely put small businesses in a much more vulnerable position.

There is a delicatessen several miles from home that I use from time to time. A few months ago the card machine went down. More recently an assistant said – very politely – your paying the old fashioned way, meaning cash. I mentioned the time the machine went down and she said. ” It happens regularly due to constant use”. So how much does it cost to sort that out? And what happens if cash disappears?

https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/strapped-for-cash-which-calls-for-urgent-government-action-to-protect-cash-users/
Strapped for cash: Which? calls for urgent government action to protect cash users
26 February 2021
”Which? is pushing for the government to take immediate action to protect the future of cash for those who need it, as its latest analysis shows a spike in the number of people forced to pay to withdraw their own money from cash machines.

The research shows that some parliamentary constituencies – among them some of England’s most deprived areas, where people are more likely to depend on cash – have seen a significant shift from free-to-use cashpoints to machines that generally charge up to £2 per withdrawal in recent years……..

…………Since 2018, two Birmingham constituencies – Hall Green and Hodge Hill – have seen 44 and 40 per cent reductions in free-to-use ATMs respectively, but both had a 59 per cent increase in pay-to-use machines.

What matters is not how many ATMs there are, but how far apart they are. LINK are committed to ensuring that when a free-to-use ATM is removed there is another free source of cash within 1km.

In the past, when this sort of complaint has been made, a look at LINK’s ATM map ( that shows all ATMs, free and pay) has shown that, while the proportion of pay ATMs may have increased the distribution of ftu with the 1km proviso seems to have been maintained.

I would just like to know this has been considered when making this type of headline.

If we don’t use ATMs as much their provision will continue to decline. We need to think creatively about how we keep access to cash and make it far more convenient to many more people who do not have, and never have had, a nearby ATM or post office. I hope the trial allowing cash businesses to dispense cash without a purchase is successfully rolled out nationwide to places large and small.

There is more detail here https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/02/which-calls-for-urgent-government-action-to-protect-access-to-cash/ but, again, no distribution data or LINK maps. Has the 1km maximum to another ATM been maintained when one has been removed?

Under the heading “Has there been any progress over the past year?” no mention is made of the Access to Cash trials that are in progress and that could make a huge difference to many people if successful.

We need to see the whole picture, not fixate on one element that is not sustainable.