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JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Banks may have given up on cash, but millions of you haven't

Note: shoppers will always want to use cash for purchases, even if banks don't like it

Whatever regulators and Bank of England officials say, cash continues to be the oil that helps keep the engine of our struggling economy running. Cash – five pound notes, 50p coins – no cryptocurrencies.

While the big banks aren’t pushing us into cryptocurrencies, they are eager (some would say too eager) to change the way we bank. They want to do more online or through an app — and less using a branch or ATM. More contactless, less cash.

This drive to turn us all into digital customers is why banks are closing branches en masse – 737 announced in just over a year, with many more to come. This is also why free ATM numbers are rapidly decreasing.

Yet the demand for access to cash – and cash deposit services – will not disappear as quickly as banks may wish. For many small businesses and seniors, cash is still king.

The key to the future of cash is effective legislation, followed by strong regulation – both long promised by the government and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) respectively.

Note: shoppers will always want to use cash for purchases, even if banks don't like it

Note: shoppers will always want to use cash for purchases, even if banks don’t like it

However, it seems increasingly unlikely that the best access security that these two steps should guarantee will come in a hurry. We could be well into 2024 before the FCA starts properly gearing up to defend our right to the money.

In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed and hope that Cash Access UK comes to the rescue. This organization has been given the daunting task of ensuring continued access to cash nationwide amid branch and ATM closures.

Life is not easy for Cash Access UK. It is financed by the big banks – parsimony is their watchword – and its work is dictated by strict rules enacted by the banking behemoths.

But, aided by the ATM network Link, this non-profit organization has the right to allocate swathes of its budget to create banking hubs where communities have lost their last bank branch.

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These hubs, run by the Post Office, allow customers of all the major banks and building societies to visit and do their banking – some can get help from a member of staff from their own bank.

Cash Access UK’s track record of establishing hubs is patchy to say the least. Only four – out of 38 promised – are operational, although two more (Troon, Ayrshire and Acton, West London) are due to enter service in the next two months.

The slow rollout is not entirely the fault of the organization. Suitable premises need to be found, leases need to be signed, building permits can take time (especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland) and renovations don’t happen overnight. But officials believe that once momentum is built, the faster the rollouts will be (currently it takes at least a year from the time a hub is recommended for it to work).

Cash Access UK is also considering setting up temporary hubs in communities that lose their last bank branch before a permanent hub can be opened. This would reduce the time a community would be without a bank other than a local post office.

Eventually, the organization hopes to have a network of 200 hubs. Whimsical? Maybe, but it’s good that he thinks big.

I’m sure Derek French, who paved the way for the banking hubs campaign (with plenty of support, I hasten to add, from the Mail on Sunday) would do a victory jig if we got to 200.

Cash Access UK is also looking at ways to make life easier for small businesses who need cash deposits quickly and securely. This week it will announce the piloting of new-style cash deposit services in 16 communities, including Ilfracombe in North Devon, Shanklin on the Isle of Wight and Holyhead on Anglesey.

Based in post offices, these pilots will use greater automation to ensure cash deposits are quickly counted – and will include priority counters that small businesses can use to bank in complete privacy.

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In time, it is also hoped that banks – gently encouraged by Cash Access UK – will put aside some of their small differences and agree to adapt their ATMs so that they can take deposits from all bank customers, not only theirs.

An easy thing to do, I am reliably told. But we’re not there yet – with the likes of NatWest amenable to such a change and others (namely the one who likes to fill our screens with dark horses) not so enthusiastic.

A few days ago I met Gareth Oakley, Managing Director of Cash Access UK.

Having spent more than 30 years in banking – with a focus on SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) – he is optimistic that the pilots will encourage small businesses “to continue accepting money from their customers”.

Let’s hope he’s right and pilots encourage La Poste to make these user-friendly services the norm and not the exception.

Access to cash. An imperative. Today, tomorrow and long into the future.

How a lost 29p costs a staggering £44 interest

Error: Peter and Jenny Wall, who normally clears his balance

Error: Peter and Jenny Wall, who normally clears his balance

I ran into reader Peter Wall eight days ago at the Hawthorns – home of West Bromwich Albion FC.

Over a steaming cup of Bovril, he told me how his better half always pays off his credit card bill every month to avoid interest charges.

But in January she inadvertently paid £3,032 – not £3,032.29 as requested. The result was an interest charge of £44.47.

Although she successfully disputed the charge on the grounds that she made a real mistake, the financial moral of this story is simple: if you don’t want to pay interest, clear your balance in full.

Happy to help in the fight for justice

Sometimes it’s nice to be comforted by a letter from a reader, especially when you’ve just gone through tons of budget documents. So thanks to John Holden, from Pontypool, for thanking me for helping him recover most of his money from an investment in bankrupt fund group Arch Cru.

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Although it took a while, John has now recovered most of the £20,000 he invested 12 years ago. “I am now closing the book on this sad episode,” he told me last week. “But I would like to thank you for your tireless, public-spirited and very effective campaign to get justice for investors like me.”

John, it’s my pleasure. Hopefully my campaign for justice for Woodford Equity Income investors is also successful. It is no coincidence that the fund supervisors for Arch Cru and Woodford were Link Group (not connected to Link, the ATM network operator).

Everything changes at Boots

Of all the loyalty cards lurking in my wallet, the one I like the most is Boots Advantage – fourpence points for every pound spent.

As sad as it sounds, nothing excites me more at lunchtime than finding out that the bath salts I put in my Boots basket before a long night of soaking will cost me nothing more than the points accumulated on my Advantage card.

Money talks: From May, every pound spent will only get threepence points

Money talks: From May, every pound spent will only get threepence points

But starting in May, I’m going to have to spend more to rack up enough points to buy Doctor Teal’s Pure Epsom Salt Soaking Solution (by the way, wonderfully infused with the scent of lavender). This is because every £1 spent will only earn me three pence points.

The only consolation is that points earned before the May deadline retain their value (quite fair too). Also, due to my age, I will always get eightpence worth for every pound spent on Boots branded goods and ‘selected exclusives’.

That of Doctor Teal. I am not for change.

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