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Fewer ATMs in France amid Covid, online, and cashless trends

ATM cash machines are disappearing in France as cash use decreases and digital banking rises, amid fears that the Covid-19 crisis may exacerbate the issue due to people using contactless methods.

A report published last week by Banque de France and the finance ministry showed that ATMs are becoming increasingly rare in the country.

The report showed that by the end of 2019, there were 2,135 fewer ATMs in service than a year earlier for a total of 50,316 - a reduction of 4.1% in 12 months.

This represents a faster closure rate than the previous average of 1.5% per year seen between 2015 and 2018.

The decrease is happening faster in towns of more than 10,000 inhabitants, at 4.8% per year; compared to villages of 1,000-2,000 inhabitants, where the rate is slower (1.3%), and even smaller villages of 500-999 inhabitants (2.7%).

In hamlets of fewer than 500 inhabitants, ATM numbers actually increased, from 182 to 187 from 2018 to 2019 - a rise of 2.7%.

At the end of December 2019, 6,572 communes had at least one ATM - 16 fewer than in 2018.

The report said that the drop was partly due to the gilets jaunes protests, writing: “[Many ATMs] suffered from vandalism acts committed during the gilets jaunes movement, but were since repaired or replaced.”

In contrast, ATMs that are available only to account holders of the given bank - known as “private access points” - have increased, from 23,202 to 25,536 in one year. The rise has been higher in larger towns (+25.4%) and medium towns of 5,000-9,999 inhabitants (+18.8%), but less pronounced in smaller villages of fewer than 500 inhabitants (+2.4%).

Overall, there are 75,852 “access points” across mainland France, up from 75,653 in the past year. 18.8% communes nationwide have at least one public ATM; 25% do not have a general ATM, but have a private bank access point; and 56.7% have none.

Banque de France said that national access to cash remains “very good”, with “99% of the population living in a commune that has at least one ATM, or in a commune within less than 15 minutes drive of the nearest access point”.

It said that the drop in ATMs was due to two main reasons: “[the drop] in cash use for transactions, due to the effect of changing methods of purchasing and payment”, and the digitisation of money.

The number of transactions made using cash in France dropped by 13.2% between 2012-2019, with the amount increasing at a higher rate than this in the last two years (2018, 2019).

This may have increased further due to the Covid-19 crisis, with many shops now refusing to take cash for health reasons, and asking customers to stick to contactless cards and card transactions only.

Similarly, the number of people dealing with their money physically has fallen, as more banks go online-only and ask customers to register for internet banking.

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