Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Cashless Britain is no country for old men

Many old men and women in Britain like to use cash and still have neither a debit nor credit card and they number among those 1.5 million adults who don't have a bank account. In fact, cash is still the most popular form of payment in Britain, accounting for nearly half of all transactions, but its days are numbered.

With bank branches and free cash machines closing every month, access to cash, particularly in rural areas, is getting harder and harder for old people in Britain. They have been left behind by the dramatic increase in contactless payments and the growth of online banking.

There are about 70,000 ATMs in Britain, but the number is decreasing rapidly. Analysis by consumer group 'Which?' estimates that cash machines are closing at the rate of 500 a month, a sixfold increase since November last year. More than 130 communities, many of them in poor areas, now have no ATM and the 2.7 million Britons, not exclusively old men and women, who rely entirely on cash are being increasingly shut out of essential services.

In addition, local post offices, used for financial transactions and a source of cash, have halved in number since the early 1980s and now stand at just over eleven and a half thousand and local banks have been closing at an alarming rate : nearly 3,000 bank branches closed across Britain since 2015.

Derek French, a former Director of the 'Campaign for Community Banking Services', who spent 16 years fighting against bank branch closures has said : “I don’t think it can be stopped. The decision to close a branch is a commercial one taken by the bank and that’s been approved by both Labour and Conservative governments. It’s very difficult to alter that. It would be lovely, but when you start examining the data, which I spent more than a decade doing, it ain’t gonna happen.”

Last year, the last bank in Dorset seaside resort of Lyme Regis closed. The only way for its 3,600 residents and thousands of tourists to get hold of their money, in cash, was to join the lengthy queue at the post office or at a single ATM,  which regularly ran out of bank notes. Those who needed an over-the-counter service had to make the six-mile commute to the nearest bank, in Axminster. Old residents with no access to a car or online banking have been left stranded.

British spending habits are increasingly monopolised by two US monoliths, 'Visa' and 'Mastercard' and it is forecast that between them they will control 90% of the total British electronic payments sector by 2026. As they consolidate their grip on our purses, their profit margins have soared to more than 50%, much of it thanks to the fees levied on every card transaction across the world. It is little wonder then that Ajay Banga, Chief Executive of Mastercard, has declared : “my enemy is cash”.

Al Kelly, boss of Visa, told an investor conference last year that “we are focused on putting cash out of business and getting more and more consumers into the payments market through more and more transactions on Visa cards”.

Mark Falcon, former Director of Regulation and Strategy at the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) and founder of financial consultancy Zephyre has said : “Visa and Mastercard’s main objective isn’t to win ATM market share from Link, but to drive consumers away from cash by killing off  ATMs. This is because card payments generate much higher fees than cash and ATMs.”

No comments:

Post a Comment