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ATM growth proves cash was never really dead

While banks are awash in industry buzz surrounding the popularity of electronic and mobile payments, the worldwide growth of ATMs suggests a different narrative about how consumers prefer to pay for goods and services.

The financial services industry news website PYMTS highlighted the correlation between ATM availability and overall consumer preferences for having paper currency on hand. Ron Delnevo, executive director of the ATM Industry Association in Europe, told the publication that there's a much more nuanced trend happening around the world in terms of cash use and the need for access to reliable ATMs and other traditional banking services.

"There are more ATMs than ever before," he told PYMTS, citing his experience in Europe. "There's 3 million-plus now installed, so that's a positive."

In countries like the United Kingdom, economic experts anticipate an uptick in reliance on cash - especially now that the country voted to remove itself from the European Union.

Similar cash-centric trends prove need for ATMs in the US

The story is only slightly different on this side of the Atlantic. Yes, U.S. consumers rely less on cash than they used to before the growth of today's credit card technology. But according to Convenience Store Decisions, data from Cardtronics indicates 4 out of 5 individuals choose to pay people back in cash when they owe them money.

The same survey respondents also expressed an overwhelming preference for cash for small purchases. For example, 63 percent of shoppers surveyed said they use cash at convenience stores. Only 41 percent said they use their debit cards for purchases at these types of stores. Even millennials - the generation most expected to adopt mobile payment alternatives - reported a wide interest in paying with cash for specific types of transactions.

"Millennials take an open-minded view of payments, and cash plays a pivotal role in their payment choice mix," Tom Pierce, chief marketing officer at Cardtronics, told Convenience Store Decisions.

Now is as good a time as ever for bank branches to fortify their ATM fleets with enough machines to fulfill their customer's' needs for fast-access to cash when they need it. Financial institutions should never ignore other trends in technology, but investing in the tried and true preference for cash is a smart way to continue serving an important niche in the community.

August 2, 2016