It’s scary to find myself defending the banks over cash machines charges….

Just had a call from GM-TV. They’re looking at a story about cash machines and how that in many of the UK’s poorest areas there are only cash machines that charge you to withdraw cash. And they are calling me wanting some ‘righteous indignation about the banks’ in an interview on this, expecting that’s what my opinion would be.

They couldn’t have been more wrong. I don’t blame the banks one little bit for this. Now it’s important to be specific – I think the lack of transparency in cash machine charges is terrible, and they should be forced to display whether you’ll be charged or not on the cash machine itself, and not wait until you’ve been through the process.

Yet why should banks provide cash machines in areas that aren’t economically viable for them. It is still free to withdraw money from bank based cash machines; though not always from bank’s cash machines that aren’t based at a bank. So this is an issue of whether or not they have branches in certain areas.

Most charging cash machines aren’t owned by banks but owned by cash convenience companies – who simply run their own ATM network, which is connected through the link network. So it’s important to understand what would actually need to happen to get free cash machines there.

Convenience cash machines operators shouldn’t charge? Well if they didn’t they wouldn’t be any of those type of cash machines, simple as that. That’s not necessarily too terrible, except it’d mean people in those areas which have no other cash machines would have no facilities.

Are we saying bank’s should have to keep or reopen branches, and thus free cash machines? How can we say that? A bank is a commercial company, its job is to make money from us. We have to learn bank’s aren’t there as some socially responsible body to aid society, they’re there to screw us. The sooner people learn that, the better they’ll behave as consumers. So what right do we have to say banks should keep unviable banks open? None. It’s their decision, we can give them or take our business from them as we feel fit, but we can’t start expecting them to provide unprofitable services, that’s not capitalism!

Are we saying we should regulate to enforce banks to keep branches open? Well this way we do have a right to say they should keep them open – but who pays… we all do, in the form of higher charges all round. Again I don’t say this is such a bad thing, but we need to be aware, if we take the commerciality out of the equation for the banks, we’ll be the ones who pay.

Should the government offer free cash machines? Another viable option, but again the question is – who pays? The answer; we will through the taxation system.

So whatever way you look at it, we end up paying to have free cash machines in areas of poverty. That for me is a political decision, and not an issue that belongs to the bank. They are simply money making organs, who are not responsible for bettering society so as such it’s not fair to berate them for this.

Ultimately I think the real cause of this problem is relative short sightedness on behalf of the politicians. It’s switched benefits and pension payments towards bank accounts rather than the post office, and forget that commercial factors would impact that so people can’t get their money out for free. Maybe the real solution is allow nice basic banking at the post office with guaranteed opening hours, decent service, and the ability to withdraw cash at no cost there.

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