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Thousands of free-to-use cash machines could be axed from Britain’s high streets due to plans to cut fees that fund the network, banking industry group LINK warned last week.

LINK has a strategy to minimise the impact to consumers due to a proposed reduction in fees over the next four years from around 25p to 20p per cash withdrawal. The reduction in fees paid by card issuers (banks and building societies) to ATM operators will inevitably push down the number of cash machines.

LINK wants to manage the process to prune ATMs in areas where there are multiple machines very close together while safeguarding provision of ATMs in deprived communities, where demand would not otherwise make one viable.

The growing popularity of contactless and online payments is reducing consumers’ demand for cash and therefore the need for ATMs. Data from UK Finance predicts that over the next ten years, the number of cash payments will fall by 43 per cent to 8.7 billion payments, with the total value predicted to fall by 23 per cent to £185bn in 2026.

Reducing fees for running ATMs is likely to push Britain further towards a cashless society, according to some payments experts.

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An estimated 38 million transactions were made in 2016 using mobile payments, accounting for £288m spent using mobile phones. Pubs, bars and restaurants made up 20 per cent of all mobile payments processed and “Meal Deal” hotspots for workers buying lunch – such as supermarkets and grocery stores – accounted for 54 per cent, according to recent research by WorldPay.

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Given the option, 26 per cent of Brits would never choose to pay cash when buying an item in a shop and more than a quarter (26.35 per cent) find it irritating when they have to pay by cash rather than card, according to a survey commissioned by global payment experts PPRO Group.

A contrary view comes in another study by ACI Worldwide, which found that despite a rise in mobile and contactless payments, 42 percent of UK consumers still use ATMs just as much as they always have. A little under a third (29 per cent) of respondents would like to see ATMs offer better and more secure means of authentication.

ACI Worldwide is a supplier of real-time payments software used by ATM networks so it has skin in the game.

“I don’t see the ATMs heading for retirement any time soon,” said Lu Zurawski, consumer payments lead EMEA at ACI Worldwide. “As well as being ubiquitous and simple to use, some people prefer hard cash as a deliberate way of controlling their spending.

“The trend towards regional bank branch closures may put an even greater emphasis on the role of the ATM, including services beyond simple cash withdrawal.” ®

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