50 years of ATM: Will cash be history?

In this speech by Bank of England chief cashier, she highlights how on 27 June 2017 we are celebrating 50th birthday of ATM.

In another piece, Bhaskar Chakravorti of Tufts University pays tribute to the ATM which is seen as the most important financial innovation by likes of Paul Volcker.  He is also part of this country studies on cash usage which look like a good read.In the process, he asks and answers the big question facing all of us: will cash die? Not so fast:

On June 27, the ATM turns 50. Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker once described it as the “only useful innovation in banking.” But today, the cash that ATMs dispense may be on the endangered list.

Cash is being displaced in so many ways that it’s hard to keep track. There are credit cards and electronic payments; apps such as Venmo, PayPal and Square Cash; mobile payments services; cryptocurrencies that operate outside the purview of central banks; and localized offerings such as Kenya’s mPesa, India’s Paytm and Bangladesh’s bKash. These innovations are encouraging cashlessness across communities worldwide.

It’s reasonable to expect cash to follow the path of other goods that have been replaced by digital alternatives, such as photos, music and movies. Will cash – and the ATMs that dispense it – experience a “Blockbuster” moment and disappear from our neighborhoods?

Not so fast. Cash will likely become less popular, thanks to the high cost of using cash and the growing array of alternatives. But I expect it will remain with us forever. The future will be “less cash,” rather than cashless.

He discusses cases of other countries and how they are dealing with cash. In the end:

What explains the resilience of cash, despite its costs and a growing array of alternatives?

Cash is unique among payment instruments in that anyone can transact, any time, any place, with no third parties involved. With this freedom comes strong privacy protection. Currency neither knows nor cares who holds it or when and where a transaction occurred. People have a visceral sense of security when they have cash with them. Much of this sentiment was uncovered in our Cost of Cash studies spanning multiple countries.

These thresholds will, of course, evolve as our societies become more digitally native. However, old habits and perceptions take a long time to turn over. Some merchants will resist the costs of new equipment or fees that accompany cash alternatives. Cash is also considered more convenient and versatile, while with digital transactions there’s always concerns about hacking and fraud.

So, no matter where we are in the world, let us celebrate the ATM’s half-century of service. The human connection with cash will be hard to break. Though cash may become less popular, rest assured that there will always be someone who will stop you in the street asking for directions to the nearest ATM.

Interesting…

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