In June 2020, the BBC ran a story about the market town of Ampthill in Bedfordshire, where a single cash machine serves more than 8,000 people. Although this might seem like an extreme example, Ampthill is something of a yardstick for the decline of cash machines around the UK.
It’s certainly the case that the use of cash around the nation has been falling for some time, but whilst this issue is a complex one with many factors causing the trend, the dwindling number of free cash machines is at least partly to blame. Not being able to access a cashpoint is bad enough for the British public, but for businesses who are seeing a resultant drop in trade, the outcome could be fatal.
In this article, we look at the extent of the UK’s cashpoint problem and outline some of the steps businesses can take to future-proof themselves.
How many cash machines are there in the UK?
A study published in the Guardian newspaper suggested that the UK’s cash machine count stood at 60,291 in February 2020. This was down from 63,160 the previous year, which shows an alarmingly fast decline in cashpoint facilities.
In other research conducted by consumer group Which?, it was identified that 130 postcode areas across the UK have absolutely no cashpoints situated within them – regions that professionals have now dubbed ‘ATM deserts’. This might not sound too bad, but the figures seem much worse when you realise that this equates to 115,000 people who do not have a cash machine in their local area.
It’s one thing that access to cash machines in the UK is dropping, but the problem is only intensified by the fact that fewer remaining cashpoints are free-to-use. In the first three months of 2019 alone, nearly 1,700 cash machines began charging for their services, whilst around 250 free-to-use cash machines close every month. The combined effect of these trends is to make it all the more difficult for the public to get free access to their money.
Why are cash machines closing?
Part of the reason that cashpoints are in decline across the UK is that bank branches are also closing. During the past five years alone, towns and cities have seen a third of bank branches shut their doors, with numbers falling from 9,803 in 2014 to just 6,549 in 2019. When these branches close, locals don’t just lose access to in-person banking services but also to the hole-in-the-wall cash machines that banks maintain.
The explanation for why banking is changing throughout the country is complex, but it at least partially boils down to a shift in consumer behaviour. With advances in contactless payments and online banking services, people are more likely than ever before to handle their banking without the need for physical services.
So, what’s the problem?
Not having readily accessible cash machine facilities is certainly inconvenient for the general public, but the problem is just as serious for businesses. In the past deciding whether to take card payments was one that businesses could make to reflect their priorities, but this is no longer the case.
Even a business whose customer base primarily uses cash may find that failing to accommodate card payments leads to a drop in sales. Just because people cannot access automated teller machines (ATMs) does not mean that they are not interested in paying for the same goods and services as before, and so businesses need to make it convenient for them to do so.
What can businesses do about it?
Fortunately, businesses need not worry as there are many ways to adapt to changes in the way we pay for things. Whilst one option might be for businesses to invest in cash machine infrastructure of their own, this simply isn’t practical in many cases where a trader does not have the space or resources to upkeep their own cash machine.
With debit cards overtaking cash as the UK’s most popular payment method in 2017, there’s a clear case for investing in a payment solution that makes it easy to complete transactions of all kinds. One of the easiest steps a business can take is to ensure that their customers can continue to spend, even when they cannot access a local ATM.
One company making this transition easier for businesses is UTP Group, a merchant services provider who help businesses to install and use Ingenico countertop card machines, mobile card readers and even virtual terminals to process online payments. Configured to take contactless payments and accept all major credit and debit card, solutions of this kind could help businesses of all sizes to stay afloat even despite the declining availability of cash machines.
Countering Cash Machine Decline with Card Payments
There’s no escaping the fact that the way we pay for things is changing. Contactless payments, mobile apps and online banking are rapidly replacing physical banking facilities and businesses need to keep ahead of the curve to ensure that they can continue trading.
Nothing could be more frustrating than getting to the very end of the sales process and not being able to take your customer’s payment. By investing in a full roster of payment solutions – including a convenient card machine – your business could keep on earning whether there’s a local cash machine or not.