The banking sector is still in the process of transformation. The closure of branches and the digitalisation of customer relations are creating a new scenario in which cashpoints are gradually losing ground.
If a few years ago the future of over-the-counter customer service was questioned due to the emergence of cashpoints, now it is the turn of the cashpoints themselves. The digital environment provides consumers with virtually full operations via their mobile devices. The only thing they are not allowed to do, for now, is to withdraw cash, but from the point of view of the new digital customer, why do we need cash? Or if we do, do we need cashpoints?
Spain and the cashpoint boom
The first cashpoint in the world appeared in London in 1967, but it was not until 1974 that it arrived in Spain. Specifically in the city of Toledo, promoted by the Banco Popular de Toledo. From then on, all banks incorporated them into their network of branches, which became increasingly widespread throughout the country. As was often said, there was a branch on every corner, and therefore a cash dispenser.
In 2015 Spain was the second country in the European Union with the most cashpoints, with a figure of 1.14 terminals per 1,000 inhabitants. It was only surpassed by Portugal with 1.22. Currently, and far from the 61,714 terminals that were registered in 2008, there is a network of just over 49,000 cashpoints, a number that could be lower if it were not for the fact that other non-bank businesses have begun to provide this type of service.
Cash, on the road to disappearance
The war on cash has been raging for years, and the institutions have already shown their willingness to reduce it gradually but significantly. As in many other matters, the coronavirus crisis has clearly shown our cash-intensive society that another way of relating to money is possible. To get an idea of the change in mentality that this has brought about in record time, in the last quarter of 2020 alone, POS transactions, i.e. paying merchants directly with a debit or credit card, increased by 16% compared to the same period the previous year. These figures correspond to a study carried out by the Bank of Spain which, among other relevant data, shows that cash withdrawals at cashpoints fell by 26% in the summer of 2020. And so did the volume of amounts to be withdrawn, which fell by 14%.
We no longer find a cashpoint on every corner, we may not even find a branch of our bank in the area where we live, but we do find a POS in every shop. And mobile devices capable of transferring money, managing payments, direct debits and a long etcetera. All this is now a reality and any digital customer has many services that were traditionally “over the counter” at their fingertips, with just a few clicks.
This change in mentality was pointed out by John Shepherd-Barron, the inventor of the first cashpoint, when he predicted that beyond cash, the future of payments would be through mobile phones. In this case, however, he maintained the existence of the cashpoint to carry out other operations, a fact that now, rather than being reaffirmed, is becoming blurred.
The rise of digital customers marks the future of banking
In the banking sector, as in so many others, the trend is towards the digitalisation of processes and reduction of all those costs now considered unnecessary. For years now, bank branches have been eliminating teller services and reducing office costs. Maintaining them is costly, but eliminating them early can have an even more negative effect. Digital transformation, both on the part of institutions and customers, is a gradual process that requires a great deal of dedication on the part of the former, as well as adaptation time on the part of customers. There will be no digital evolution if the tools provided are not adequate in terms of agility, usability and security. And this is where all institutions that want to position themselves in the market with a certain competitive advantage will have to invest. The alternative will be to do so when it is already a reality, in reaction to those that are already doing it.
Without going any further, the main Spanish banking institutions have already set, as part of their customer acquisition strategy, priority access to digital customers. Understood as those who, from day one, use the mobile application and self-service as their main means of contact with the bank. Customers, therefore, who represent a very low cost and who are an increasingly attractive part of the market. It is the concept of the customer who buys products, rather than the customer to whom products are sold.
In the year of the pandemic, 2020, BBVA had 7.3 million customers, of which 2.4 million were new digital customers. The entity made a great quantitative leap, exceeding the number of digital customers captured the previous year by 56%. Banco Santander’s goal is to achieve 50% of sales through digital channels, a figure that now stands at 44%. Caixabank, for its part, has 67.6% of digital customers, thus leading the digital banking sector.
The challenge of the future: achieving widespread digitalisation
The use of cash is in recession, but is still influenced by the weight it had in the past. With the increasing existence of physical and digital cards, this figure is decreasing year-on-year. Suffice to say, in 2019 only 53% of citizens used cash as their main method of payment. These figures, published by the Bank of Spain, are even more significant if we compare this with 2014, when cash was the preferred option for 80% of the population.
In this process of change, the presence of the banking sector in rural areas around the country remains an open problem. These are populations without branches or cashpoints, where cash is the only means of exchange, but at the same time inaccessible. Banks will be challenged to follow a widespread digitalisation process without leaving anyone behind.