/ Money

Access to cash: why Link is putting communities first

The Link network today launched its ‘Request an ATM’ tool. As free cashpoints continue to disappear, its CEO, John Howells, explains more about the challenges faced.

Link is continuing to address the loss of cash access by offering communities the chance to apply for a new ATM – the service has launched today.

Here, Link’s CEO, John Howells, tells us why he does not want to see communities left behind as changes continue.

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

The way we pay is changing. From buying groceries online to getting on the bus using a contactless card, consumers are choosing to use new technology to pay for things every day.

That is a huge opportunity for businesses and many people, but a challenge for society. 

One consequence of using less cash is that people are taking less cash out of ATMs. Across the Link network, we have seen withdrawals fall by 10% in the last year alone.

That means operators are choosing to close ATMs and change their network. 

‘Don’t leave communities behind’

The changes are likely to continue. But we’re determined to make sure it happens in a way that doesn’t leave communities behind.

After all, in almost all communities there are people and places from local shops to buses that don’t use anything except cash. 

While many people, including policy makers, rely less and less on cash, many still depend on it and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. 

So we’re determined to do something about it, before the system hits crisis. But we aren’t going to sit in an ivory tower and dictate what those changes should be.

Instead, we’re putting communities first. With the support of Which?, we are asking communities across the UK to come to us where they feel they need a free ATM.

Addressing your concerns

We’re going to respond to those concerns one by one, and where an ATM is viable and necessary, we’ll work to get one up and running, using funds from the banks and building societies. 

Use the Link ‘Request an ATM’ tool.

This won’t mean that there will be an ATM on every street corner, but I am determined to make sure that, while people still need cash, they can continue to get it in a convenient location. 

So if your community is struggling to access cash don’t sit on your hands. Don’t wait for something to happen. Find out more about our Delivery Fund here, and see if we can help. 

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

Comments

When you spend cash, you know it has gone and you know where it has gone to. Though the electronic system is reasonably robust, it isn’t quite as foolproof. An outage stops purchases, machines may be hacked or corrupted, it is easier for wrong payments to be made and electronic cards can be read electronically by thieves. As you say, quite a few of the population don’t want these cards and have always used cash. Charities and small shops may not accept them. Card companies are not there for altruistic reasons but to make a profit.
You tell us that ATMs will continue to close and just a few will remain if enough people ask for them. So the decline continues unchecked. Long may the supermarkets offer cash back even if this is limited to £50. Let’s hope they also demand that their ATMs stay outside.

hello

A positive approach that I welcome. Vynor, as you say “ATMs will continue to close…… but it does not follow that ” and just a few will remain if enough people ask for them.“.

There are 48m transactions a week done through ATMs at an annual value of £120bn, 48500 free-to-use machines and 13500 pay-to-use. There are more dree ATMs now than there were prior to 2014. Pay to use ATMs halve halved in number since 2007 whiles free machines are 30% higher. According to https://www.link.co.uk/about/statistics-and-trends/

I do not see an imminent catastrophic loss of ATMs but, because we have changed our habits, the network will change. ATMs are being supported where appropriate, as this intro says. Link interchange premiums paid to support financial inclusion have increased by over 4-fold in the last year.

However, we need to supplement it. Post offices provide 11500 more outlets for cash. Other constructive proposals have been made. We need to develop those to make sure the vast majority are given access to cash, better than we can hope to achieve with just ATMs.

My spelling above is atrocious – sorry. “Dree” = free; “halve” = have; “whiles” = whilst; 🙁 🙁 🙁

Thank you for this Conversation, John. It is encouraging that the opportunity to request an ATM is being promoted, though I believe there has been an opportunity before now.

It might be helpful to have an app that shows the location of nearby ATMs, any cost of withdrawal, and if their availability is not 24/7. I regularly use the Food Standards Agency’s app to find food hygiene ratings for nearby premises.

It would also help if the Link ATM Locator showed the distance by road rather than ‘as the crow files’. Motoring route planners show distances by road.

I don’t know if Link monitors the quality of service provided by members. Some ATMs are scruffy the legends on keys worn off and receipts may not be available. Thankfully most operators do much better.

I reckon that maintenance costs are a significant factor in deciding whether or not to retain an ATM, but the fewer there are the more wear and tear each will suffer.

The same applies to the card readers in shops, some of them are in a terrible state.

Thanks for replying, John. I was not aware of the app, which looks very useful. It would be helpful if it could be advertised on the website, for example on the ATM Locator page.

The app is helpful in showing the route by road. Taking where I live as an example, the app correctly shows our village shop as the nearest ATM, about 1.3 miles by road.

In contrast, the website ATM Locator shows Morrisons as the nearest ATM, 0.67 miles away. That would involve crossing private land and scaling high fences! The route by road is over three miles. Having the ATM locator on a website is useful but I respectfully suggest that it is updated to match the app.

If I see problems with a machine on my travels, I will report them as you have suggested. It would be helpful if all ATMs did have provide contact details to report problems because I have been met with ‘It’s nothing to do with us’ responses.

I have long regarded Link as a good example of useful cooperation between competing companies, and long may it continue.

The problem here is not the lack of free cash machines, but the minority of businesses that accept only cash. Living in London, the only type of business I still come across that accepts only cash is hand car washes. It is almost certain that this is to facilitate tax evasion, although they attract far more attention from immigration authorities than from HMRC.

Given that the very most it costs a business to accept cards is 1.69% using Sumup.co.uk (less with other providers), there’s no excuse for businesses to accept only cash. We need legislation to require all consumer-facing retail businesses to accept card payments for all transaction amounts. There is also no justification for businesses to impose a minimum transaction amount for card payments. It’s obvious that:

1.69% x £20 = £0.34
1.69% x (£5 + £5 + £5 + £5) = £0.34

Given that the fee is a percentage, it costs the same to accept one large amount as it costs to accept the same total amount across multiple smaller transactions.

We must consider that many – probably the majority of – people give cash to other recipients than just regular businesses, as various Convo contributors have explained.

People want access to cash. I want to see the vast majority having such access, far more than ATM’s, banks and post offices could ever provide. If businesses take in cash as part of their payments mix, they can also dispense it to provide its convenient availability right across the UK.

We are losing access to cash – really? These are some numbers to consider.

In 1986 we got our cash mainly from the bank and building society – 21643 branches.
In 2000 – about 14000 branches, but now added 28000 free ATMs – total 42 000
In 2012 – 13345 branches – plus around 41 000 ATMs – total 57 000
In 2018 – 11065 branches, plus around 50 000 ATMs, plus banking facilities at 11500 Post Offices – total 72 000

So in fact, on the numbers it looks as though we’ve never had better access to cash.

And with the post office banking facility, for everyday tasks we now have 22 500 “banking” outlets compared to 21643 in 1986. Over 800 more.

Just putting some information to consider as we debate the issue.

There is no need for statistics to be aware that many areas that did have ATMs and Post Offices have lost them.

In our small town there are 12 sites with free ATMs, some with multiple machines. I see that Morrisons, which is in a small retail area outside the town now has four ATMs. Our Post Office has gained an ATM. That’s great for me and most people that regularly visit town and city centres but it does not help those living in the highlands of Scotland or the wilds of Wales.

I think that’s the main point. The very folk who might need cash are also possibly the very folk who don’t have easy access to transport.

One answer might be to ask GP surgeries to host an ATM. Just about every where currently has those, although for how much longer is open for debate…

One thought, how do all these people who cannot access cash manage to feed and clothe themselves?

Ian – That’s a possibility, but unless GP surgeries are modern multi-GP practices they might be lost in future. I have twice had to move GP surgery and see that the one I used until three years ago has now closed.

What would work best will depend on location and security considerations, but village halls, community centres and even schools are other possibilities.

Many ATMs have been lost as a result of closure of banks. Eventually we will see the need for planning of local facilities, which does seem to happen when new housing estates.

Exactly, Alfa. We are not actually hearing squeals of outrage from the highlands and islands, the moors and the mountains. As I think I said recently, most people throughout the country seem to manage to be able to get their food and household supplies every week and everybody has a postal delivery service. In remote areas ways have been found of getting access to cash.

I think the statistics Malcolm has supplied are very useful in framing the discussion. It is arguable that we have been spoiled with a costly excess of cashpoint provision and a large number of superfluous machines that are uneconomical to manage.

Where there are multiple machines in a single location I suggest that should count as one facility. We seem to get stressed out nowadays about spending more than a second waiting for something. Our local big Sainsbury’s store has just one machine and I have never seen more than one person waiting to use it.

If I was going on holiday to a remote location I would get enough cash in advance to ensure I would not be inconvenienced or drain the local facilities.

Most new housing developments of any size seem to quickly get a supermarket or convenience store with a free-to-use ATM. This also becomes useful for other people living in the area.

Until recently, most pubs dealt almost exclusively in cash. They would have been the ideal places to operate a cash-exchange service but publicans have always been averse to cashing cheques or giving customers credit – for understandable reasons generally. But the debit card has removed all such risks and I can see no reasons why community pubs could not offer such a service to their locals and regulars.

There is no need for statistics….“. Not unless you want to look at an issue in the round.
“Many ATMs have been lost as a result of closure of banks” but many other cash outlets than ever existed have been provided.
“those living in the highlands of Scotland or the wilds of Wales.” Did they all always live close to a bank branch to withdraw their money?

We are not going to provide thousands more ATMs, restore bank branches so we need to keep an open mind in other ways of providing access to cash to many more people than ever had access in the past. In my view.

I think providing information on topics is an essential part of a Convo, for those who want to explore the way forward.

Putting ATMs in GP’s surgeries is a positive suggestion.

John wrote: “Where there are multiple machines in a single location I suggest that should count as one facility.”

Link is not consistent here. For example the nearest Tesco has two ATMs but are shown as a single ATM by Link, whereas the four at Morrisons have four entries.

I presume that having multiple ATMs at a supermarket etc. is because it’s less of a problem if one runs out of cash.

Yes, but it is still basically one cash facility.

I believe the vaults of cash machines can contain £100,000 or more. It is a logistical exercise to keep them topped up for peak demand periods.

John: when you said “We seem to get stressed out nowadays about spending more than a second waiting for something.” I’ve noticed that, too; delayed gratification used to be a male prerogative but it seems fairly ubiquitous, now.

It’s a very interesting topic, in fact, to which there’s no simple answer. A good example of this is the TV. Early sets took an eternity to warm up and produce an image, then we moved on to largely IC-based sets, which seemed to come on almost instantly, Eventually we moved to the current position, which is where the TV set is little more than a device hub, so all the extra boxes need to be powered up and I suspect from my experience we now have to wait longer than we did in the earliest days for the selected programme to appear.

In a sense, next-day delivery is analogous to the introduction of the IC-based TVs; we’ve become used to getting things within 24 hours in the same way many have learned to anticipate getting ill by about a week or so, in order to get an appointment at the surgery.

We adapt, which is how life survives. And Alfa’s question was significant; many do indeed seem to be coping without easy access to cash. And I can pay cheques into our account via an iPad in the house.

So the question has to be how vital are ATMs?

I suspect they remain vital, if only because the shadow economy would disappear without them.

I don’t disagree, John, but was just giving an example of the inconsistency I have encountered in whether a group of ATMs can be recorded.

I presume that the larger ATMs are remotely monitored.

• Tweets & replies
• Media
1. Which? Press Office‏ @WhichPress 22h22 hours ago
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”Which? has revealed that ATMs are closing at a rate of 578 a month. As a result “people in hundreds of neighbourhoods – most of them old – are finding it virtually impossible to get hold of actual money to pay for even the smallest things”

Which? could investigate and report on this properly, instead of misusing numbers to create a sensation (or does it?). From where are these ATMs disappearing so rapidly? Are they all from old-people’s neighbourhoods? I very much doubt it. I believe most are from areas where there are simply too many ATMs for the much-reduced usage they get. I believe those that remain are still well distributed across most neighbourhoods.

LINK publish a “footprint report” showing what is happening to protected ATMs – those that do not have another one within 1km. https://www.link.co.uk/media/1424/atm-footprint-report.pdf The latest, for September, shows there are 15 more live ATMs than the previous month. Of 8 that had been lost, they either had another local cash source, like a post office, or were in premises to which the public had no access.

All I want to see is the full picture publicised so we can comment on exactly what is happening. Surely Which? can analyse the data on a fair and informative way even though it wants to support its ATM campaign? I may be incorrect in my beliefs – I don’t think I am – but I would like the information to demonstrate that, not misleading headlines.

We need better access to cash for far more people than have, or have ever had, it. ATMs will never do that. We need constructive proposals to achieve that goal.

Hey Malcolm,

Thanks again for the comment. Stop me if you’ve heard this already, but I’ll endeavour to clarify a bit of the numbers that you see in the headlines.

The overall figure of 578 free-to-use ATMs closing a month comes from the investigations that Which? released back in September. These are ATMs which were free to use, but have since either closed entirely, or converted to pay-to-use, and 578 is the average number either switched or closed each month in the first half of this year, nationally.

The protected ATMs differ slightly from the figure above. These are ATMs that are specifically protected from closure and from charging a fee; with the majority of ATMs not being protected, it is possible that the number of protected ATMs could increase while the overall number of free-to-use ATMs declines nationwide.

In our news story we do offer some wider mapping (scroll down to “Cash machine and bank branch closures”), showing where the overall proportion of free-to-use ATMs is declining. This shows the overall figure as proportion of free-to-use ATMs closing in each region of the country, and explains further how our analysis incorporated Indicies of Multiple Deprivation to reach the conclusion of how these closures are impacting certain parts of the country and that, based on these indicies, areas where more free-to-use ATMs are closing tend to be poorer.

We haven’t actually made the connection to the population of these areas being older. The tweet you’ve cited is actually quoting the author of the op-ed in the Telegraph rather than our press release.

We’ve not gone more granular with the data than the national averages as the story we’re telling with these headlines is both the pace of the closures nationwide, and in the impact an ATM closure has. Why these ATMs may close may vary, and likely depends on the local context of where they are. Some may be in an area well populated with ATMs as you’ve suggested, and therefore may not prove cost effective to run, while others may have been attached to a business or bank that has been closed, or may be the only ATM in the area but aren’t protected, and therefore need fees to cover the costs of operation. Some might have even been torn out of the wall with construction equipment and then deemed not cost effective to be replaced, as was the case with the nearest ATM to where I live. The research has told the first part of the story, and people sharing their stories with us (particularly through the conversation) have illustrated the latter bit.

You’re right in it being a constructive proposal to enable people to pay how they want though, and ATM aspect is one piece of a larger puzzle. Focussing on the number of closures is one of the most visible (and visibly alarming) way to illustrate a societal change that may have a disproportionate impact on people who would rely on such a provision, and one of the aims of the Freedom to Pay campaign is to ensure people who choose to pay in this way can continue to do so. There is, however, more to come with the next phase of the campaign which I won’t give away here (date TBC at this stage), but will bring in a fuller picture of what it means for people to have the freedom to pay when that doesn’t necessarily mean cash.

Apologies for the delay in replying to you on this, getting all of this information has involved a bit of running around on my part.

Thank you for the additional information Jon. It reinforces a point I made previously, however, that the number of machines withdrawn and the rate of withdrawal are relative to a historical position that was probably not realistic and that as economies have become necessary following the 2008-onwards recession, banks are being more cautious on where they site machines and how many they can provide and support. It is highly likely that a large number of ATM’s became due for replacement over a certain period [a number of years after the boom in provision] and the opportunity was taken to cull the numbers not just to save the capital cost of replacement but to save on servicing and management expenditure in line with actual levels of use.

I appreciate that is no comfort to people who have lost machines in their areas or are now faced with having to pay to withdraw cash, but – at the risk of being controversial – it is possible that areas of deprivation are not populated by many people in possession of a bank card, so ATM use is naturally lower and possibly uneconomic.

@jon-stricklin-coutinho, thanks Jon. It will be interesting to see how the next phase presents data.