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Business Focus: Cash is still king for some as trial may help spell end of frustration at empty ATMs

By David Richardson

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by David Richardson, regional development manager at FSB

As local economies awaken after the long winter lockdown, so the issues that occupied our minds before the pandemic are flooding back once more including access to cash.

The world is changing rapidly and the use of credit and debit cards and other innovative payment methods is growing, but that certainly doesn’t mean that cash is dead. In fact it remains remarkably popular in the Highlands, where many locals – and especially the elderly – still like it, where visitors still use it, and where the alternatives are not always practical for seasonal businesses.

Moreover, the Financial Conduct Authority suggests that five million people in the UK remain dependent on cash, that during the pandemic 15 per cent of adults struggled to cope without access to bank branches and ATMs, and that 16 per cent suffered as businesses stopped or encouraged customers to use contactless or digital payments.

The widespread closure of Highland banks and ATMs has meant that accessing cash has become ever harder, and the ATM network is not always reliable. Indeed, in at least one tourist town ATMs have run out of cash altogether on busy days, leaving locals, visitors and businesses feeling frustrated.

However, all is not lost, for one innovative new scheme, supported by the FSB and being trialled in select towns across the UK until October, might provide the answer: Post Office banking hubs.

Operated by the Post Office and serving the customers of major banks under one roof, trial bank hubs have been set up in dedicated high street retail spaces to enable customers to access cash and undertake other financial transactions.

This basic banking includes cash withdrawals and consumer and business deposits. But bank hubs won’t be the answer everywhere, so other solutions are also being tried, including further development of Post Offices, pop-up Post Offices, ‘cashback’ from local stores, and new, free to use, ATMs.

The trial’s final report will make interesting reading, but whatever happens, let’s hope that cash remains in use and accessible for many years to come.

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