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Switzerland: Show Me the Way to the Next ATM

Categories : Cash does not require a technology infrastructure, Cash is available to all users, CashTech
May 30, 2022
Tags : Access to cash, ATM, Bank branches, Switzerland
A new paper analyses the spatial distribution of ATMs and bank branches in Switzerland. On average Swiss residents have easy access to cash as 90% live within 2.7 km of an ATM and 3.7 km of a bank branch. Those who live more than 5 km from an ATM or bank branch account for 2.6% and 4.9% of the population, respectively.
Guillaume Lepecq

Chair, CashEssentials

This post is also available in: Spanish

Closest ATM: 1.1 km Away

The study, authored by Dr. Tobias Trütsch from the Center for Financial Services Innovation at the University of St. Gallen, estimates actual travel distances and times to the closest cash withdrawal point based on the Swiss road network. Swiss residents overall have easy access to cash: they live within an average travel distance of 1.1 km to an ATM and 1.6 km to a bank branch. The average travel time to the nearest ATM and bank branch is 3.6 and 4.1 minutes, respectively. The results are available in an interactive dashboard.

Travel distances and times decrease with the size of the municipality. Small, urban characterized cantons such as Basel-City and Geneva exhibit very short travel distances and times to the closest cash access point, whereas both these variables tend to increase in cantons with more rural attributes. Roughly two-thirds and half of the population reside within a range of 1 km to the closest ATM and bank branch, respectively. 82% and 74% of the population face travel times of less than 5 minutes to the closest ATM and bank branch, respectively. Half of the people reach an ATM (bank branch) within 300 m (900 m) in municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants compared to 2.1 km (3 km) in communities with fewer than 2,000 residents.

Cash access is more restricted in some areas: Only 2.6% (around 225,000 residents) and 4.9% (around 420,000 residents) of the population need to travel more than 5 km to reach the closest ATM and bank branch. These shares gradually increase with decreasing municipality size. 61% (58%) of these residents live in municipalities with less than 2,000 inhabitants and 82% (80%) in municipalities with less than 5,000 inhabitants to the next ATM (bank branch).

The ATM and bank branch network appears to be relatively dense in many parts of the country. Only a small share of people in each municipality resides more than 5 km away from the nearest ATM and bank branch. More than 40% of the population in 236 and 368 municipalities have to travel more than 5 km to reach the next ATM and a bank branch, respectively (i.e., 10.9% and 16.9% of all 2,172 municipalities). In these municipalities, the number of inhabitants is rather small, with an average (median) number of 579 (445) regarding ATMs and 896 (631) regarding bank branches.

42% of municipalities are not equipped with an ATM

921 (42.4%) and 1,172 (54.0%) of the municipalities in Switzerland are not equipped with an ATM and bank branch, respectively. The share of municipalities with no ATM and bank branches is very high in the cantons Basel-Land, Vaud, Jura, and Geneva. The share of people with more than 5 km travel distance is around 15 and 18 percentage points higher in non-ATM and non-bank branch municipalities (non-ATM: 16.3%; non-bank branch: 19.9%) compared to municipalities with ATM and bank branches (non-ATM: 1.2%; non-bank branch: 1.7%). The average distance to the closest ATM (bank branch) is 3.4 km (3.7 km) in municipalities without an ATM (bank branch) compared to 0.9 km (1.1 km) in municipalities with ATM (bank branch).

In Switzerland, the number of ATMs peaked in February 2020 with 7,243 installed machines. It has since fallen by 6.5% to 6,766 ATMs in January 2022. As in many other countries, the number of bank offices and branches has steadily decreased throughout the last two decades. The network included 2,721 branches at the end of 2020, which represents a 23% decline since 2005. The study does not cover alternative cash access points such as cashback or cash-in-shop which are growing in Switzerland thanks to CashTech companies such as Sonect.

International Comparisons

While international comparisons are limited due to the small number of comparable studies, and different methodologies used, the authors look at data from Australia, Austria, Spain, and the UK. ATM availability is very similar in Austria and Switzerland meaning that around 97% of the residents reach an ATM within 5 km.  In the UK, 96% of the people residing within 2 km of a cash access point, which not only includes ATMs but any bank, building society, or Post Office branch. In Spain, 98% of the people live within 5 km to the closest cash access point. Conversely, 99% of Australians reach a bank branch within roughly 30 km.

In the case of the UK, the figures contradict the analysis of consumer association Which?. The association has been lobbying in favour of protecting access to cash and stresses that half of the UK’s bank branches – or 4,685 branches – have closed since 2015 and the number of free-to-use ATMs has dropped by almost a quarter since 2018 – or 12,000 cash machines. Which? identified 17 parliamentary constituencies that have particularly poor access to cash, and account for 1.5 million individuals. They range from rural areas where patchy public transport systems make the problem of dwindling cash access worse for an older than average population, to relatively deprived urban areas where residents struggling during a cost of living crisis might need to use cash for day-to-day budgeting.

This post is also available in: Spanish