The rise and fall of cash machines

Back in 1997, my husband and I missed a flight from Barcelona to Paris because we did not have enough Spanish pesetas* to pay for the taxi from the hotel to the airport.

You see, in those days you needed to pay for taxis (and many other things) with actual notes or coins. And to make matters worse, in those days cash machines (or ATMs) were few and far between. And they would often run out of cash during the weekends. So, by the time we found one where we could withdraw pesetas, and made it to the airport, it was too late to board.

I remembered this episode when I read that LINK, the UK’s cash machine network, were considering an overhaul of the system, which according to The Guardian: “could lead to the closure of a large number of hole-in-the-wall machines”. The article goes on to explain that the system costs £900m a year to run, and that operators recover this cost by receiving a fee from the card issuers, calculated as the total cost divided by the number of transactions. As the cost is, more or less, fixed, and the number of transactions is decreasing sharply because of the increasing popularity of other payment forms, the cardholders’ cost per transaction is rising significantly.

These news prompted me to monitor how many times I actually needed to use cash in my day to day life. There were only four instances where I absolutely had to use cash. They were:

  • Paying my cleaner
  • Buying things at the Farmers’ market
  • The bus fare in Oxford (conversely, at the London end of my journey I can not pay the bus fare with cash)
  • One car park in Oxford’s city centre (it does have one machine which accepts credit cards, but it is on the other side of a busy road, and it is often out of service).

For everything else, I could – or, sometimes, had to – pay by another means. All the stores I buy from accept debit or credit cards, and when I step on the bus in London, I actually need to pay with my bank card (or the Oyster card) as no cash is accepted. I pay for my coffee and the coach to London via apps on my phone. And even the collection for the teacher’s Christmas present, which in the past was done by sending money in envelopes via the children’s school bags, has been replaced with a wire transfer.


And when I do need cash, I often get some cash back at the supermarket, instead of going to an ATM to get it.

I have to say, I was surprised at the extent to which I do not use ATMs on my day to day! I also noticed that sometimes I choose a provider because I have credit on my app. And I observed that I started storing the cards that I use for payments in a different (more accessible to me) place from where I keep my cash. Maybe clothing and wallets will change in the future too?

Still, I couldn’t help to feel saddened by the demise of a technology that was invented and  popularised in my lifetime.

Do you still use much cash for your day to day payments? How would a possible reduction in ATMs affect your behaviour?

* Spain’s national currency, in the days before the Euro

5 thoughts on “The rise and fall of cash machines

  1. I pay my cleaner, beautician, window cleaner and hairdresser by transferring money to from my banking app. My local taxi has an app and my card is stored (not Uber, really just the local taxi company). Contactless and Apple Pay have been a godsend. I do try and carry £20 in cash at all times, but sometimes I only use a machine once a month. Oh my butcher is cash only – and I told him he probably misses out on quite a few hundreds of pounds a year because I only go to him for ‘essentials’. I go elsewhere for the bulk of the meat… he doesn’t want to pay for card fees apparently

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s amazing how the mobile phone has become the gateway to so many aspects of our life. The downside is that when you run out of battery, you are blocked from all those services.


  2. All the small services I pay through transfers.
    Here in Sweden we very rarely need cash: The farmers’ market has swish payments- a mobile to mobile payment system-, in fact last week even the kids at the school disco offered swish for entrance fees.
    Bus fare we use an app- It’s cheaper with the app by upto 30%
    We also have parking app- it means we can extend or shorten the time period as we want

    Liked by 1 person

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