Accessing our cash
Issue 212 | 1 December 2021
In this edition of Payments:Unpacked Tracker we take an in-depth look at the value and volume of cash acquisition through the UK’s LINK ATM network.
Weekly ATM value and volume figures 28 November 2021.
The volume of ATM transactions decreased by 2% when compared to the previous week in 2021.
The volume of ATM transactions increased by 10% when compared to the equivalent week in 2020.
The volume of ATM transactions decreased by 39% when compared to the equivalent week in 2019.
Weekly LINK ATM transaction volumes
Last week there was a total of 30.6 million ATM transactions which represents a decrease of 0.6 million ATM transactions over the previous week.
In 2021, there was a increase of 2.7 million transactions or 10%when compared with the equivalent week in 2020.
The volume of ATM transactions has been tracking very closely to 2020. However, the paths for 2020 and 2021 are now diverging and this is expected to continue over the next few weeks if restrictions are not re-introduced this year, as conditions will again differ across these two years. However the divergence has been caused by the impact of the second lockdown on 2020 activity rather than growth in the current year with activity in 2021 remaining steady as evidenced in the second graph below.
The reduction in ATM Transaction volumes for 2021 compared to 2019 is also unlikely to see any significant change. New research from LINK published on 20 October shows consumers are withdrawing £100 million less per day since before the pandemic.
The following quote from Nick Quin, Head of Financial Inclusion, LINK, was included within the report:
People are choosing new ways to pay for things, and COVID has turbocharged the switch to digital.
When we conducted similar analysis this time last year, we had an incomplete picture because before the vaccine rollout people generally were staying local, working from home and many leisure locations were still temporarily closed. ATM use in some city centres had declined by as much as 80% overnight. Now that life is returning to normal, people are still visiting ATMs much less often and taking out more each time.
Crucially, even though we’re withdrawing almost £100m less per day, millions still rely on cash, especially in the most deprived areas of the country. It is important we continue to protect access to cash across the country.
From Lockdown 1.0, 2.0, Tiers & 3.0 to Steps 1 to 4 out of Lockdown.
We continue to retain this graph within the tracker as it so clearly shows the steady decline in cash usage in 2018 and 2019 with a similar rate of fall at the beginning of 2020. This was then followed by the sudden steep drop at the start of the first lockdown at the end of March 2020 and activity fell as many accelerated their use of digital and contactless payments.
This second graph shows the impact at the beginning of Lockdown 3.0 and then a gradual increase from January to March followed by the spikes at the end of March and mid April as restrictions were eased at each of these stages and increased activity over the May bank holidays with fairly consistent volumes seen since that time.
Since July and until the most recent weeks, activity has been very closely matched across the two years and it looks like this floor in the volume of transactions will be maintained during the remainder of 2021. Whilst digital payment habits were reinforced during each lockdown, there continues to be a consistent underlying level of cash usage by those who need to rely on cash and by those who choose to rely on cash.
This next graph also shows the trajectory of ATM Transactions through each lockdown and the easing of restrictions at each stage.
In 2021 the volume and value of ATM Transactions were at firstly significantly below the equivalent months in 2020 and then increasing above the previous year as restrictions lifted compared to 2020 when restrictions were at their tightest.
At the time of the latest update to the graph, conditions were at their closest over the two years with hospitality re-opening at the beginning of July 2020 and with businesses operating under similar restrictions to those currently in place in 2021. The convergence of the graphs shows a consistent level of ATM transactions and value across the two years under these similar conditions.
The overall volume and value of transactions had been very subdued throughout each of the Lockdowns compared to pre-pandemic levels as shown in the next graph below. This graph shows the pattern as restrictions began to be eased with volumes now back to c.72% of pre-pandemic levels. A similar picture is seen for transaction values – at c.80% of pre-pandemic levels.
As recently reported by LINK, currently in 2021, out and about is feeling more normal but ATM withdrawal values are still 24% down on pre-Covid levels and high streets are still reporting 16.5% less shoppers and shopping centres 22% less – thus volumes and values are remaining subdued overall.
Daily LINK ATM transaction volumes
Link has provided the following graph to show the daily transaction volumes for each Wednesday since the beginning of the year – and for the equivalent period in 2020 and 2019. ATM transactions first pulled ahead as restrictions eased earlier in 2021 – but then continued to track very close to those in 2020 – although consistently still around 35-40% lower than pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
The LINK Scheme Ltd volume of transactions for last Wednesday were very similar to the previous week’s, unlike 2020 or 2019 when there were marked increases at the approach to the last weekend in the month.
The following graph shows the daily transactions in more recent weeks compared to 2020 and 2019. The similarity to 2020 can be seen – with the increase in the volume of transactions each weekend clearly shown.
Yesterday’s ATM transactions were below 2020’s despite the 2020 November Lockdown still having a couple of days to go – perhaps weather related for this year as adverse conditions have impacted many parts of the country.
Monthly LINK ATM transaction volumes
LINK transaction volumes and values in January and February were affected by the various lockdowns across the UK with the volume of LINK transactions down 46% and values 38%, when compared to January and February 2020. Restrictions were only introduced towards the end of March 2020 and thus although an increase was seen month on month, the actual volumes in March 2021 were still 26% below that seen in March 2020.
The easing of restrictions has led to increasing volumes month on month from April onwards with the monthly volumes also ahead of 2020. The gap had however closed in July reflecting the very similar conditions across the two years – in both cases both retail and hospitality venues had re-opened but with social distancing restrictions in place.
Over the summer and early Autumn ATM use settled into a similar pattern as 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions were broadly the same. Transactions for July to September were within a few percentage points of last year’s and while there appears some daily variation, Monday to Wednesday is usually quieter than 2020 while the weekends are busier, overall the figures are remarkably consistent.
However, volumes and values remain significantly below pre-pandemic levels and it seems certain that there has been a fundamental change in how some consumers are using ATMs and cash. Even with this overall reduction in usage, August still saw 140m LINK transactions and over £7 billion withdrawn and September, traditionally a quieter month, was only slightly less.
The total number of ATM transactions fell from 2608.4 million in 2019 to 1642.6 million in 2020 – a fall of 37%. The total as at the end of October 2021 for this year to date is 1254.2 million – a fall of 10% over the same period in 2020. However the higher value per transaction is evident with values to date reducing by only 5%. Volumes and Values are expected to continue to pull ahead of 2020 towards the end of the year (assuming further restrictions in 2021 do not occur) and thus the gap should continue to narrow over the remainder of the year.
The following graph shows how the number of ATM transactions each month have been changing over recent years (millions). Again the impact of each Lockdown in 2020 and at the beginning of 2021 can clearly be seen followed by the persistent underlying level of transactions as restrictions eased during 2020 and again in 2021.
The graph below shows the impact of the various lockdowns in the average withdrawal amount. The average withdrawal value increased by almost £20 to over £85 during the first lockdown . This would appear to be due to non essential trips being discouraged and this led to fewer outings and thus more cash withdrawn each time. With leisure and hospitality closed there were also fewer opportunities for lower value spontaneous cash requirements. This was reinforced during each lockdown and the average withdrawal has continued to be high throughout the remainder of 2020 with only a modest fall last Summer.
This year, we had seen the average value fall once again as restrictions were lifted from March although the average value remains high compared to historic levels.
The LINK report published on 20 October included the following analysis: Before the pandemic , each adult in the UK visited a cash machine on average three times a month. However, 18 months after the Coronavirus pandemic started, it is now less than two times a month with customers now taking out on average an extra £10 each visit. The average withdrawal was £66.99 and is now £78.54.
After Lockdown 2.0, cash usage increased back to pre-second lockdown levels but no higher despite seasonal spikes seen in previous years and thus it did seem to have reinforced the digital habits developed during the year. This was again seen in the Tier 4 restrictions and throughout Lockdown 3.0.
With such a sharp drop in ATM transactions during 2020 a further significant shift from cash to digital may have been the logical expectation for 2021 but the volume of ATM transactions has remained remarkably consistent since restrictions were lifted. With 2020 activity now showing the impact of the second lockdown an increase in the year on year comparison for both volumes and values has occurred in recent weeks – caused however by a fall in 2020 rather than any significant change in 2021 activity.
At the present time, with 2020 reflecting a lifting of restrictions in many areas and 2021 seeing a tightening due to the new variant, similar conditions are again in place and a similarity of activity is therefore expected to be seen.
In summary, although more may move to digital solutions over time, we can see that a considerable number are still reliant on or are choosing to rely on traditional payment methods including cash. This is reflected in the consistent underlying level of ATM cash transactions seen and – for 2021 at least – a further significant year on year reduction is not expected to occur.
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