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Thousands of ATMs removed due to COVID-19 business closures

Thousands of ATMs removed due to COVID-19 business closures

People may have a harder time pulling out their money as closures brought about by the pandemic have led to thousands of ATM machines being decommissioned. 

Since the COVID-19 coronavirus shuttered businesses across the country in March, the number of ATM machines available to the public dropped by 2515, among the steepest of drops recorded by the Australian Payment Network (APN)

The drop in ATM machines coincides with a shift towards tap-and-go payments -- particularly during the pandemic -- where a contactless transaction is widely seen to hedge the risks associated with making in-person purchases. 

The Australian Payment Network confirmed tap-and-go payments of $200 could be made without a PIN being entered -- double the previous limit -- in April to help mitigate the risks of COVID-19 transmissions.

ATM machine numbers have been on the decline following almost three decades of growing popularity. They’ve dropped from a high of 32,879 two years ago to 25,719 -- a fall of about 22 per cent.

Most of the ATMs shut down since March were primarily based in locations “that have been closed due to COVID-19, such as bars and clubs,” the APN said.

More people are going cashless

The drop in ATMs come as customers increasingly embrace cashless transactions, and after the big four banks’ abolition of withdrawal fees led to the industry consolidating them.

Advancing technologies have led to people paying for goods and services without relying on money, the Reserve Bank of Australia said.

“(There’s a) decline in the use of cash for consumer payments as many people now prefer to use electronic payment methods, such as cards, for even small purchases,” the central bank said in a bulletin published in March this year.

“The majority of in-person payments are now initiated by tapping a card with contactless functionality on a terminal, and consumers are also using mobile phones and other devices to make ‘tap and go’ payments more often than they were three years ago.”

Banks consolidate their ATM footprints 

Commonwealth Bank was first to announce it was scrapping ATM withdrawal fees across its network of 3200 machines in September 2017, setting a benchmark the remaining big three banks rushed to meet.

The very next month, the number of ATM machines in the wild began to drop, bucking a 28 year trend of growth, before leading to June’s 22 per cent drop.

There was no longer a financial incentive -- or a need, for that matter -- for a public space to host four ATM machines, when one that would not charge for withdrawals would do.

At the height of their popularity in 2016, ATMs generated an estimated $548 million in fees, RateCity found.

A big four bank sells its network of off-site ATMs

ANZ bank confirmed it is selling 1300 of its offsite ATMs to Armaguard group on Friday, making it the second major acquisition of an ATM network by Armaguard in little more than a year.

“The sale is another step in ANZ’s drive to simplify the business and its Australia Retail and Commercial operations in particular,” the bank said in a statement. 

The value of the agreement has not been disclosed.

Customers will still be able to use the ATMs at no cost -- even after they wear Armaguard’s United National Network branding. The 900 ATMs located at ANZ branches were not included under the deal.

The deal is the second major acquisition of an ATM network by Armaguard within the last couple of years, after it bought “hundreds” of RediATMs in February last year.

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This article was reviewed by Finance Writer Alison Cheung before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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