© GettyLondon, UK - October 29, 2013: Corporate branding on the headquarter buildings of Barclays at day in London.
Natalie Ceeney is the chair of Access to Cash Review. For as long as most of us can remember, cash has been the cornerstone of our economic life. Knowing you had some notes in your pocket made you feel secure. It also offered opportunity - a gateway to commerce, excitement and luxury. Sterling was the one thing whose power no trader could deny - or so we thought. All that, sadly, is changing.
For most people in this country, cash is no longer the principal gateway to a 21st century economy. Cash has been superseded by digital payments, contactless cards and smartphones and is, for increasing numbers of us, becoming redundant in our day-to-day lives. These changes do not make cash less important - quite the reverse. Now, it is vital that bankers, regulators and politicians make a clear stand, and unequivocally commit to cash.
© Provided by Associated Newspapers LimitedBarclays¿ decision to withdraw from the scheme that allows its customers to access cash using the Post Office network is damaging and counterproductive, says Ceeney
We used to take for granted the infrastructure that allowed cash to flow effectively - printing, managing and circulating notes, sustaining a resilient network of ATMs, and banking the notes when they had been spent.
It was so much a part of everyday life that few of us would ever have stopped to consider that the system costs £5billion a year to run. Now that system is creaking, and it is incumbent on all of us to make a conscious and deliberate choice to keep that infrastructure alive. Or face the consequences. A society without cash.
That is why Barclays' decision to withdraw from the scheme that allows its customers to access cash using the Post Office network is so damaging and counterproductive.
© Provided by Associated Newspapers LimitedNatalie Ceeney
The people who use post offices to access cash often live in rural and isolated communities where the bank branches have long closed, taking their cash machines with them. For them, the Post Office service has been a lifeline and customers of Barclays will not readily understand the bank's decision until they turn up at a post office and are refused access to cash - as will be the case from the start of next year.
At a time when banks such as Barclays are being criticised over the closure of their branches in towns and villages across the country, you would expect them to do all that they can to demonstrate their continuing desire to be at the heart of our most vulnerable communities.
Yes, you could argue its announcement to ring-fence some 100 'last in town' branches from closure until at least October 2021 is good news, but it's akin to shutting the door after the horse has bolted. Data from consumer group Which? indicates that only NatWest has shut more bank branches than Barclays since the start of 2015.
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But when it comes to the Post Office, Barclays' decision to pull the plug is driven purely by commercial reasons. Alone among the participating banks, it objects to the charges levied by the Post Office upon Barclays every time one of its customers walks into their local post office and withdraws cash.
My worry is that the damage wrought by this ill-considered and hasty decision will be felt more widely than by Barclays' customers alone. As chair of the recently published Access to Cash Review, I have seen how pressures on our cash network are bringing it perilously close to collapse.
In communities that do not have access to a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week ATM, the partnership between major banks and the Post Office is a critical part of the underpinning of our universal cash network. There is a real danger that Barclays' decision will be the thin end of the wedge.
© GettyLondon, United Kingdom - April 29, 2011: Old sign of Barclays Bank in Westminster, London, UK.
With one major player withdrawing from the Post Office scheme, what is to stop it unravelling entirely over time? And if it does, where will those hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the system turn? Many will have nowhere to go. Cashless.
Barclays' decision strikes at the heart of the principle that I - and my colleagues on the Access to Cash Review - argue must be protected: that people must be able to enjoy universal access to cash and to spend it where they wish. In decades, or perhaps only a few years to come, we may be ready as a society to make the leap into a cashless society. But many of us are not ready for that change right now.
The cash system that keeps communities ticking over must be cherished, not undermined. It is for this reason that I urge Barclays to reconsider and to recognise the value that cash continues to play in our society.
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