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08/11/2010 / craigmartinallen

A cashless future?

We are constantly being told that we are moving towards a cashless society, so is the cash machine still a vital feature of every high street? We can now travel around London with our Oyster Cards, pay for the Congestion Charge with our mobile phones and do all our shopping online.
Graham Mott, Head of Planning and Development for LINK, the company that operates the national network of cash machines on behalf of High Street banks, maintains that the future is looking bright.
Mr Mott told BBC London, “People have been talking about the cashless society for some time and the date moves forward five years every time. It is now further away than ever. There is no successful replacement for cash anywhere.”
“Customers are reluctant to move away from cash. Usage of cash machines rises consistently between 3%-5% year-on-year.”
The developers of the Max Box, launching in the UK this summer, hope there is still a future for cash machines, or rather, they believe they are shaping the future. They are launching what they call a ‘revolutionary’ cash machine that will also allow users to print off photos, order flowers, buy ring-tones, play games – as well as taking out cash.
However, Mr Mott of LINK is sceptical if users will warm to multi-function cash machines.
“In the UK there is a real desire to focus on the cash.” He said. “We are more reluctant to do anything to distract from that. It is possible to have machines to sell theatre or cinema tickets. But people would not be particularly keen on the person in front of them doing that. It would just mean more queuing. People want to ‘cash and dash’ – get through the transaction as quickly as possible.”
“I think the machines will become location specific. Some machines will just be ‘cash and dash’ and other machines, perhaps the ones inside the banks, will offer more services.”
What about using our finger prints instead of a card?
“We could have finger print ATMs right now,” explains Mr Mott. “The main constraint at the moment is that we are still having too many false-denials – when the machine fails to match a person with their real fingerprint. That would be an unpleasant experience for them.”
“The other issue is privacy. People don’t like a database of their finger prints or their irises. I think they would only be accepted on the back of a broader ID database scheme.”
One potential new development could involve a tie-up with Transport for London’s Oyster Card scheme, possibly allowing users to top-up their Oyster Cards at cash machines but Mr Mott warns that there are still considerable technical problems to be resolved.
Taking over the world
All these new developments whether it is finger print or face recognition technology, will happen in good time and mark another chapter in this story. But for now, forty years after Reg Varney used the first cash machine, there are 1.6 million of them worldwide. There is one at the South Pole. There are some in Norway that talk to help blind users. In parts of the United States they have now replaced whole banks. A German monastery is replacing its collection boxes with a device that will accept payments from debit and credit cards. And, yes, it all started in Enfield.


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