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08/11/2010 / craigmartinallen



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40 years of the cash machine

Forty years ago, Barclays bank opened the first cash machine in Enfield, north London. Since then the “hole in the wall” has become a fixture with more than 60,000 machines in the UK alone.

Before the days of plastic credit and debit cards, the service used paper vouchers that dispensed money when they were matched to the correct code. Initially only available to selected customers, the machines paid out notes in £10 bundles – enough for a wild weekend back then.

There are now more than 1.6m machines across the world. They extend from the South Pole – a machine at the remote McMurdo station serves a small permanent team of Antarctic scientists – to the world’s most northerly machine at Longyearbyen, Svalbard in Norway.

The run-up to Christmas is the busiest time of year, with the busiest hour between noon and 1pm on the Friday before Christmas. Barclays’ most frequently used cash machine is in Camden Town, north London, while a machine at Heathrow Airport dispenses the most money each year. On average, customers take out £65 per withdrawal, according to banking organisation Apacs.

In 1999, high street banks backed down from a plan to charge customers £1 for every withdrawal from a rival’s machine, although remote dispensers still charge customers. Cash machines now supply 63% of all cash to individuals; 95.5% of all withdrawals are made free of charge.

A UK charity has trained dogs to use cash machines for their disabled owners, while talking cash machines have been installed in Norway and Northern Ireland to help blind customers. As well as dispensing cash, ATMs can now be used to print bank statements, top-up mobile phones and pay in cheques. A new generation of dispensers will even allow customers to print digital photos and download music.


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