In Sweden, lawmakers are debating a proposal which would force banks to provide cash services to their customers. In the UK, the Access to Cash Review was commissioned as a response to growing concerns about whether people can use or access cash in an increasingly digital society. In the US, several states are legislating against stores and restaurants, which refuse to accept cash on the basis that it discriminates those who need or prefer to pay in cash. In France, the central bank along with the government is launching an initiative to ensure equal access to cash throughout the territory.
“The Banque de France will never drop cash”
“The Banque de France will never drop cash.” said Governor François Villeroy de Galhau.“The freedom for the French to choose a payment instrument is a central element of trust in money” he added. The net issuance of cash grew by 7.5% in 2018, versus 5% in the euro zone.
Avoiding bank desertification
The main aim of the initiative is to ensure the continuity of cash services throughout the country. As in many mature economies, commercial banks have accelerated branch and ATM closures. At the end of 2018, there were just under 55,000 ATMs in France – down from 57,500 at the end of 2015. This represents 815 ATMs per million inhabitants, slightly below the European average of 846 ATMs. According to the central bank, there is no overall issue with ATM distribution as 99% of the population can reach an ATM in less than 15 minutes. But there is a risk that remote and rural communities may face a “bank desertification”. There are frequent reports in the French media, of small towns petitioning against the closure of the local ATM.
Alternative distribution channels
The central bank will be discussing with banks as well as with the cash supply chain their mid-term 2020-2025 strategies. It will also be looking at alternative distribution channels such as cash-back or the ‘Nickel accounts’ – owned by BNP Paribas – which enable consumers to carry out banking transactions at news agents. The Post Office which has the largest network with 17,000 branches and 7,700 ATMs could also play a more important role in the future.