Half of people ‘still using less cash than they were before pandemic’

ATM network Link said in its view cash machine use will never return to pre-pandemic levels.

Vicky Shaw
Friday 04 March 2022 00:01
Half of people say they are still using less cash than before the coronavirus pandemic, nearly two years on from the first UK lockdowns, according to Link (Rui Vieira/PA)
Half of people say they are still using less cash than before the coronavirus pandemic, nearly two years on from the first UK lockdowns, according to Link (Rui Vieira/PA)

Half (50%) of people say they are still using less cash than before the coronavirus pandemic – nearly two years on from the first UK lockdowns.

The research was carried out by ATM network Link, which said in its view cash machine use will never return to pre-pandemic levels.

Its latest research also found that one in 25 (4%) people do, however, use more cash now than they did pre-pandemic.

Link has been carrying out surveys to reflect people’s changing use of cash during the pandemic. Its first poll was during the first week of March 2020.

That survey, conducted before the lockdowns, found that at that time over three-quarters (77%) of people said they did not think Covid-19 was going to change their use of cash in the next six months.

Among those who had changed their spending habits back in March 2020, 9% were buying more food staples and 8% were increasing their spending on other supplies such as toilet paper and batteries.

At the height of the national lockdown in March and April that year, ATM transactions fell significantly with the average volumes falling by as much as 65% across the UK, Link said.

These falls were significantly higher in city centres and transport hubs. This was largely down to people staying at home, but also due to traditionally “cash heavy” sectors such as leisure and hospitality closing alongside sites hosting ATMs such as cinemas, pubs and shopping centres.

By mid-summer 2020, more than 75% of people were saying they were using less cash since the start of the pandemic and 80% said it would reduce their cash use in future. But 53% of people still said they had used cash in the previous two weeks.

By summer 2021, 72% said they were using less cash overall.

Link's view is that ATM use will never return to pre-pandemic levels and that people who perhaps were using less cash generally are now entirely comfortable using their phones or contactless

Graham Mott, Link

Link’s most recent survey found the proportion of consumers using cash in the previous two weeks was 73% – the highest level it has recorded during the pandemic.

The latest research also showed a change in where people are using cash.

Locations which are showing increasing usage are supermarkets, other retail, services like hairdressing and particularly pubs.

This may be a result of those locations starting to accept cash once again, or at least not actively discouraging it, Link suggested.

Comparing ATM use in January 2022 with a year ago, while overall ATMs were 20% busier this varied a lot across the network, Link said.

Town centre ATMs were 50% to 60% busier and airport ATMs were around 200% busier, but ATMs use in convenience stores barely changed, probably because people keep using them throughout the pandemic, it suggested.

Graham Mott, director of strategy at Link, said: “We monitor ATM use across the UK on a daily basis, but these studies add another layer. After two years of research we now have a detailed picture of how people are using cash and why throughout the pandemic.

“Link’s view is that ATM use will never return to pre-pandemic levels and that people who perhaps were using less cash generally are now entirely comfortable using their phones or contactless.

“That being said, we’re still seeing £1.5 billion withdrawn from ATMs every week. That’s still a lot of money and there are a lot of people who rely entirely on cash.”

One area where people may turn to cash more is when it comes to budgeting, to help with soaring living costs.

Mr Mott said: “Looking ahead, one new development and one we will be monitoring carefully, is that 8% of people say they are going to use more cash to budget and save because of rising living costs.

“We understand that people are far more comfortable using technology, but importantly, not everyone can use digital and perhaps there’s no better way to budget than notes and coins.”

The Government has said it will legislate to protect the future of cash.

For millions of people the shift away from cash made things more difficult

Natalie Ceeney, Access to Cash Review/Cash Action Group

Natalie Ceeney, chairwoman of Access to Cash Review and Cash Action Group said: “The pandemic turbocharged the shift towards digital – many shops stopped accepting cash and many people moved away from cash entirely.

“However, what we see in this research is that for millions of people the shift away from cash made things more difficult. For many people, particularly those who are older, disabled or poorer, there is no alternative to cash. I’ve spoken to people who had to travel miles, at significant personal cost and time, because their local bank branch or ATM closed. Digital services might be easier and more convenient for many, but they don’t yet work for everyone.

“The cash pilots that we ran through the pandemic have introduced innovative ways for people and businesses to access cash services. We’re currently working on setting up the next five banking hubs, which are crucially important for communities who would otherwise be left behind.”

Lord Chris Holmes of Richmond, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on banking and fintech (financial technology) said: “The UK is home to hundreds of fintechs who are creating products that help people manage their money or create saving pots, but the reality is that if you don’t have access to a smartphone, broadband or the necessary skills or confidence, then you are effectively cut out.

“This is hugely problematic and only exacerbates inequalities in society. Not everyone can bank online or rely on direct debits every month. Cash is another example of this. I think we would largely agree that a digital future is a good thing, but we need to make sure that we bring everyone with us and look at all the policy challenges as part of this opportunity.”

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