/** Tools */

19 May 2005

Stop the ATM Charging Rot

Back in March, The Antagonist covered the release of a Treasury Select Committee report on fee charging ATMs, the findings of which highlighted that it costs UK bank customers £140 million each year to access their own money. The report concluded:
  • Signs which warn users of fee-charging ATMs must be made larger and be easier to see (yay)
  • Post offices must "urgently" re-examine the decision to allow fee-charging ATMs (except, sub-postmasters have no control over which machines go in)
  • People on low incomes suffered the most (that's how the rich get richer)
  • Some communities were heading towards a situation where there were no free cash machines (it's Capitalism, fuck 'em)
  • Banks must "think carefully" before selling off their free non-branch based ATM sites to fee-charging providers (why would they "think at all" to care?)
  • Greater regulation of fee-charging cash machine operators is needed by bringing them under the UK Banking Code (don't hold your breath)
Yesterday, as a true testament to the usefulness of the Select Committee, and the general usefulness of those who claim to protect our best interests, the BBC cited an APACS survey which reports a surge in fee charging ATM numbers, with more than four out of 10 UK cash machines operated by independent firms, nearly all of which charge fees for transactions.

More than four? The Antagonist thinks, for the sake of antagonism, argument and making a damned good point, 'more than four' might as well be referred to as 'five'. Five out of ten machines equates to one out of every two, or half, of all ATMs that charge fees.

Half all ATMs in the UK now impose a penalty for transactions. The customer battle is already half lost, and news of the loss is cunningly hidden inside the phrase, 'more than four'.

But wait! APACS says it's not all bad as only one in twenty of the transactions analysed had incurred a fee. Emma Smith, a spokesperson for APACS, told the BBC:
"This shows that people are going to free machines operated by banks and building societies over fee-charging machines.

"The spread of fee-charging machines is about consumer choice. It is worth remembering there are a greater number of free to use cash machines than ever before."

Consumer choice? Let's just clear one thing up before we proceed any further. The Antagonist refuses to refer to 'customers' as 'consumers'. This errant nomenclature just perpetuates the myth that we're here to drain, devour and dissipate as much as possible, in as many different ways as possible. This is wrong.

So, now we know we're talking about 'customer' choice, let's work through this one step at a time.

Customers were previously free to use free ATMs to access their money. Theoretically, this was a total absence of choice, but as far as customers were concerned, it was the best possible situation. No choice needed to be made. Customers could access their own money for free, and all was well.

The introduction of fee-charging ATMs into the equation also introduced a 'choice'. That it was a choice nobody in their right mind would exercise, nor even something they would elect to have as an option, is something which appears to have escaped everyone's notice and is mentioned here for completeness.

At the same time as this marvellous 'choice' was introduced, so too was a dramatic reduction in the opportunity to exercise the right to the original, and far better-for-customers, option. Now that half of all ATMs impose penalties for transactions, only half of all ATMs allow customers to access their money without penalty.

Then consider the Select Committee warnings of communities where no free ATMs exist, and their concerns regarding more communities that are rapidly heading towards having only fee-charging ATMs.

If we allow the status quo to deteriorate further, such that it reaches its only logical conclusion, we will end up in the exact opposite place to where we started - a total absence of choice but, this time, one that imposes extreme financial penalties on customers.

This, of course, is how any business makes its money, but that doesn't imply that there should be no limits to the levels of extortion allowed by regulatory authorities, or tolerated by customers.

It's time to stop the ATM charging rot. Plan ahead. Take cash out in advance without penalty. If you get stuck, borrow, and pay it back when you have access to your money without penalty. Keep a cheque-book with you. Better still, don't leave your money in bank accounts at all. Haggle. Barter. Be resourceful. Most importantly, spread the word.

When there is no money to be made installing and maintaining fee-charging ATMs that nobody uses, despite the near eradication of free alternatives, and when research continues to show that, despite their increasingly limited choice, customers are still refusing to use fee-charging ATMs, fee-charging ATMs will disappear.

No comments: