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Paying a price for the cashless society

Clash looming between banks that consider cash a cost and the EU which wants to keep people’s options open

There’s a relentlessness to lobbying from the banking industry for a move to a world of contactless payments, or a retreat from cash at the very least.

Persuading people of the dominance of card over cash obviously makes it easier for banks to close branches and reduce costly staff and site overheads, improving profit margins.

Shutting branches will also force those keen to retain at least some access to cash to source it increasingly from ATMs. ATMs in this State have always worked on the basis of modest withdrawal fees charged by the customer’s bank regardless of who owned the machine. But banks have been getting out of the ATM game.

Bank of Ireland, AIB and Ulster Bank have, between them, sold about 1,700 ATMs to US groups Brinks and Euronet. The two groups agreed to a three-year moratorium on increases in fees charged to use them but the last of those lock-ins expires at the end of this year.


Consumers’ Association of Ireland chairman Michael Kilcoyne has raised the prospect of customers being charged upfront for using the machines on top of any charge levied by their bank for the transaction. It has been common practice in the UK and elsewhere for many years, so there is no reason to suspect it will not happen here.

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Setting aside ATM access, the online offerings of some of the banks hailing this brave new digital world are distinctly underwhelming. Bank of Ireland’s app has been an object of derision for pretty much all of its existence. That has not persuaded the bank to invest properly in providing a cutting-edge online experience for its customers. Such is the concept of customer service.

And then there are card charges. Business is getting increasingly vociferous in recent times about the cost to them of tap-and-go or other card-based forms of payment from customers and suppliers. Others, though, consider the security advantages outweigh those costs and refuse to accept cash at all.

Even the EU is alarmed, with the commission looking to put in place protections for cash and for those who want to use it.

All of which suggests we should be cautious about thrusting ourselves entirely into a world without cash. It’s not just older, less tech-savvy customers that are likely to be discommoded; it will be all of us.