The Financial Inclusion Commission welcomes the HM Treasury’s Cash Access Policy Statement announced on Friday 18 August. This is a positive move to safeguard access to cash and vulnerable cash users. We welcome the three key commitments in the policy statement that:
- no one should have to travel more than 1 mile in urban areas or 3 miles in rural areas to access cash
- “reasonable provision” should be free to use and does not include fee-charging ATMs or other pay-to-use services
- a new access to cash solution should be put in place no later than when a significant closure or change takes place.
However, the Government must go further than simply protecting customers’ access to cash. Greater steps must be taken to enhance access to banking services more broadly, such as protecting face-to-face banking and introducing inclusive digital banking services that meet the needs of all.
Digital banking platforms must offer product features that mimic the key attributes of cash, which support effective household financial management, including full transparency and control through true Real Time Balances and flexible recurring push payments, such as Request to Pay.
However, until digital financial services meet the needs of those persistent cash-users who use cash to avoid financial distress, the Government must protect both access to and acceptance of cash for individuals who would be financially disadvantaged without it.
We particularly welcome the statement that the financial services sector should ensure that customers’ access to cash is not affected by a significant closure, such as that of a bank branch, Post Office or ATM. We fully support the introduction of community banking hubs as part of the solution to a changing financial services market, but the current roll out speed is far too slow and does not meet this test. We therefore call on the financial services sector to significantly speed up the roll out of community banking hubs and other solutions for cash withdrawals and deposits.
Finally, the Commission urge the Government to incorporate their Cash Access Policy within a National Financial Inclusion Strategy that supports the Levelling Up agenda. The Government must urgently address the growing gap in financial wellbeing and resilience in the UK through a strategy, which drives the supply of accessible and inclusive banking, insurance and savings products and services, and addresses the failure of digital financial products to accommodate cash-dependent customers.