/ Money

Why access to cash must endure

With the pandemic forcing our payment habits to change, Gregor Dobbie, CEO of Vocalink, a Mastercard company, explains why he thinks cash must remain a viable option.

This is a guest post by Gregor Dobbie. All views expressed are Gregor’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

Over the past few months, our payments habits have changed significantly. Many of us have been paying with contactless more, using banking apps to manage our money, and as a society we have migrated in greater numbers to shopping online.

These digital solutions have been fundamental in helping the nation maintain a semblance of normal financial life in 2020.

In fact, according to Mastercard’s most recent State of Pay report, 58% of people said that banking apps ensured they continued to pay their bills and 89% of people who hadn’t used a banking app before said they will continue to use it after the pandemic.

Meanwhile, data from LINK, the UK’s largest ATM scheme, shows cash withdrawals at ATMs between April and September fell by almost half (48%) compared to the same period in 2019.

A shift to digital payments

With such a shift to digital payments and reduction in the use of ATMs, reports are circulating that the end is nigh for cash.

However, the reality is that there are millions of people who are still dependent on cash for their day-to-day living. Whether that’s because they are geographically isolated, the elderly who have grown up with and trust cash, or small businesses or sole traders who transact in cash.

That’s why it’s vital that as a country we continue to provide and protect access to cash.

To help protect this, the Post Office has recently announced a £16 million investment to take ownership of, modernise and operate around 1,400 free ATMs across the UK, and we are proud to be working with them on this via Vocalink’s ATM Managed Services arm.

The Post Office’s commitment is one of the largest investment programmes in the ATM market by any organisation or company for over a decade to ensure that anyone who wants cash can get it. This is hugely significant as Post Offices continue to remain a highly valued focal point in many communities.

Alongside our support for this development, we have provided the transaction processing which enables cash and Everyday Banking services at the counter of over 11,500 Post Office branches since their launch in 2011. 

Enabling access to cash

For Mastercard, the opportunity to look for creative ways to enable the access of cash extends further. Earlier this year we introduced a UK wide initiative for shops and businesses to earn a fee every time they dispense ‘cashback’ to a shopper paying with a Mastercard debit card.

Not only does this offer an additional income stream to high street shops at this tough time, but it provides further incentive for local shops to offer cashback and increase the opportunities for their customers to access cash. 

The importance of these local stores and Post Offices within communities cannot be underestimated. Our UK State of Pay report from 2019 found that a fifth (19%) of people in the UK use the Post Office for everyday banking, increasing to almost a third (29%) of over 75s.

The main reasons people gave for using a Post Office were the convenient location (47%), not having a bank branch nearby (35%), and being able to do other things at the same time (32%).

In fact, Post Offices are becoming increasingly key as, between 2014 and 2018, use of the Post Office to manage a current account doubled.

Alongside this, prepaid cards are now playing an increasingly important role in getting funds quickly to vulnerable individuals whose access to cash may have been affected by the pandemic.

Around 160 local authorities currently use Mastercard’s prepaid network to make welfare disbursements. Prepaid cards can also provide a bridge for individuals and businesses that want to realise the benefits of digital payments, without having to open a bank account – thereby enhancing financial inclusion. 

Why cash remains critical

The pandemic has accelerated adoption of digital solutions at an unprecedented rate but it has equally highlighted the sheer number of ways that people and businesses can access their monies and bank accounts: via a mobile or desktop app, over the phone, at an ATM or in person at a bank branch or Post Office.

As digital inclusion grows, people are becoming more comfortable using a mix of digital and in person channels, or even forgoing cash altogether. However, we must continue to support customers who prefer the more traditional methods of payment both now and after the pandemic.

Access to cash remains critical for many reasons, and as an industry, we must continue to ensure that people have choice how they pay and that nobody is left behind when it comes to accessing banking or financial services.

By enabling payments across cards, between accounts and cash, Mastercard’s multi-rail approach enables people and businesses to pay, or send and receive money how, where and when they choose.

This was a guest post by Gregor Dobbie. All views expressed were Gregor’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

Help Which? protect cash as a payment option by signing our Freedom to Pay campaign petition.


Readers may be forgiven for assuming that this article represents an improvement in the availability of cash through additional provision.

The Intro does not mention that as part of the Post Office’s £16 million investment in cash machines there will be around 600 fewer free-to-use cash points at post offices than there are currently.

The ATM’s at post offices are transferring from their present owner and operator, Bank of Ireland, to the Post Office, but some will be taken away and others will become pay-to-use machines. Where a free facility is removed or changed to a pay-to-use one the PO will supply the postmaster with posters to put up explaining that cash can still be obtained without charge over the counter. That will only apply during opening hours, though, so this represents a loss of service.

In the context of its campaign to protect access to cash, I feel that a comment from Which? would be appropriate at this stage.

It is, I agree, a misleading statement. While Which? say “All views expressed were Gregor’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. ” I would have thought that they should check the content of the Convo introductions that they put online for veracity. We get enough fake news from other quarters. I hope they will amend this intro.

However, I am glad to see support for cash businesses dispensing cash against debit cards. I hope the current trials also prove effective and the facility will be set up nationwide. ATMs that are little used, except in protected locations (of which there are many) will, inevitably, disappear. Cash from business could, and probably will, make cash withdrawals conveniently available to far more people than have ever had convenient access to an ATM. We must adapt to changing conditions.

Yes, the initiative by Mastercard for shops and businesses to earn a fee every time they dispense ‘cashback’ to a shopper paying with a Mastercard debit card is a good development. It will be interesting to learn whether that would be an exclusive deal and rule out the possibility of a similar arrangement with Visa [which possibly supports more debit cards than Mastercard].

When Which? invites commercial organisations to contribute to these Conversations we cannot report them for being ‘promotional’ and, like this one, they can open up aspects of consumer affairs that would otherwise remain hidden so, in the interests of widening the debate, it would be good to have some on other topics.

I agree that it would be useful to have input from businesses, John. Likewise, guest contributions from other organisations could help provide insight into topics where few of us have little experience and are dependent on what appears in the press and on websites. That does not mean we should not be vocal if we feel that the wishes of businesses appear to be of consumer detriment.

I agree that input from Which? would be useful and hopefully this will come when it has had time to evaluate the plans of the banking sector and how these might affect consumers. I think we are overdue to hear from Which? about the Post Office ATMs because this has been public knowledge for months and demonstrates how major commercial decisions can impact on the lives of consumers.

I would like to see Which? invite contributions from appropriate organisations, who have expertise and insight, into issues that are raised during the course of a conversation to help keep it informed.

The trial cash withdrawal from retailers is underway.

” • Trial operating across 13 small shops in four communities across the UK
• The solution means consumers will not have to make a purchase when making a cash withdrawal
• The pilots form part of the Community Access to Cash Pilots

LINK, the UK’s main ATM cash machine network, and PayPoint, the in-store payment services and ATM provider, have successfully begun a trial to allow consumers to withdraw cash in smaller shops without paying a fee with positive early indicators.