Today marks 50 years since the first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) was unveiled at a Barclays branch in Enfield, London. The ATM brought convenience to many people as they didn’t have to wait in a line in order to withdraw some cash. You could just walk to a machine at 2 AM, get some cash and be on your merry way. Now a lot of technological advancement has happened in the past 50 years so its natural to ask will the ATM live on.
Worldwide ATMs are a part of the daily lives of many adults. In UK, BBC reports that there are 70,000 cash machines, 176 million cards that can be used to withdraw cash at them, and 94% of adults use ATMs. Just from seeing those number from one of the super powers of the world might make people rush to the conclusion that the ATM will be here for a long time. I certainly thought the same but then I came across a totally opposite scenario.
Sweden, one of Europe’s largest countries, has transitioned to an almost cashless economy. Literally cashless. The businesses there even frown upon receiving cash and have the right to refuse money. This is because the country has been quick to adopt and develop mobile and contact-less payments. Since they were the first country in Europe to be issued banknotes, they have had the idea of a cashless society and are now working on a digital currency called eKrona to accompany their Swedish kroner notes. No wonder the country’s cash transactions in 2015 made up barely 2% of the value of all payments made in Sweden last year according to central bank the Riksbank.
So with one country using a lot of cash, another running away from it and then there’s Zimbabwe which is in-between. Here, we want cash but it’s not easily available at ATMs or Banks so were slowly starting to use ‘plastic money’ in-order to transact. Could Zimbabwe transition into a cashless economy just like Sweden where you can even buy a magazine or lollipop without cash? It is definitely possible if we use the innovations we have at our hands.
This leads me to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. In the past 50 years, these encrypted digital currency have started to rise as a viable payment solution. Local startups like BitMari have introduced Zimbabwean farmers to Bitcoin as a cash alternative and aim to be a Bitcoin remittance company. If people warm up to digital currencies then the ATM will most certainly be phased out very quickly.
In countries were ATMs are widely used, they will continue to be developed to allow more people to do the transaction that they don’t necessarily need a bank teller’s assistance. However, people worldwide will eventually stop using ATMs at some point. As we have seen, the abandonment of ATMs will happen at a different pace in each country to meet it’s needs. I think Zimbabwe would greatly benefit from adopting digital currency and payment solutions. Maybe we could learn something from Sweden. What do you think?