A few years ago there was a huge outcry when banks announced that they would start charging people for the use of cash machines. Critics pointed out – quite rightly – that such a move would penalise the poor, as most banks had closed their smaller, less profitable branches; as a result, the only way people who didn’t live on busy shopping streets could get their money was to use cash machines. Charging for cash machines after closing branches, some suggested, was akin to pissing down poor people’s backs and telling them that it’s raining. In the resulting storm of bad publicity, the banks changed their minds and withdrew their plans.
But you can’t keep a bunch of bankers down for long, and the banks have managed to come up with a scheme that’s much worse than their original plan of charging £1 per transaction. They’ve been cheerfully flogging off their cash machines (except the ones in city centres, naturally), to private operators. As The Times notes:
There are an estimated 20,000 fee-charging cash machines around the country billing customers anything from £1.50 to £5 for each transaction.
The number of fee-charging cash machines has soared by 40 per cent in the six months to September 30.
Last year, 65 per cent of new cash machines were fee charging.
The spin on this is that such machines have to charge, because they would not otherwise be viable. That’s complete and utter bollocks, because in many cases the fee-charging machines are replacing existing machines that have been perfectly viable up till now. For example, the Bank of Scotland has sold its machines in garages and convenience stores to a fee-charging independent operator, and other banks are following suit.
And it’s not as if these operators are truly independent of the banks, either. As Channel 4 news points out:
Last year the Royal Bank of Scotland acquired the largest operator of profit-making cash machines in the country
That’s the same Royal Bank of Scotland whose profits hit £7 billion earlier this year.
Make no mistake, this is big business: ATM fees already generate £60 million per year in the UK, and that figure will soar as more and more free machines disappear.
So the fix is in. First, the banks close branches and replace them with ATMs; then, they replace the ATMs with ones that charge fees. If people don’t complain too much, the next step will be to charge for their remaining ATMs on the grounds that everyone else is doing it, so why can’t they?