The future of access to cash

Access to cash and banking services remain vital for many people, particularly for vulnerable consumers.

Update: 23 July 2021

As part of our data-led approach to access to cash, the FCA and Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) have published an updated assessment of the UK’s access to cash infrastructure, taking into account the impact of coronavirus (Covid-19). This follows on from our work on mapping the UK’s access to cash with the University of Bristol. We have also published research on consumers who rely on cash. 

Find out more about the publication below and on the PSR website.

Why we are looking at access to cash and banking services

Access to cash and banking services remain vital for many consumers and businesses. Our Financial Lives 2020 survey found that 10% adults rely on cash for all or most of their daily purchases. Our data shows that cash is available through a variety of channels and most people can currently access cash easily. But, the long-term decline in the use of cash has made it more expensive for individual firms to maintain the existing infrastructure needed to maintain current levels of access.

Along with the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR), the Bank of England and the Treasury, we are committed to protecting access to cash – particularly for consumers in vulnerable circumstances who rely on cash. It is part of our Making payments safe and accessible priority to ensure consumers can access the cash they need. Recently we published a joint statement on access to cash with the PSR to clarify that we expect firms to help protect access to cash and wider banking services in ways that meet consumers’ needs.

In March 2020, the Government announced its intention to legislate to maintain access to cash in the long-term. That legislation will support cash infrastructure in the future and provide a framework to protect access to cash for those who need it. The Treasury has recently launched a consultation which seeks views on establishing geographic requirements for the provision of cash withdrawal and deposit facilities, the designation of firms for meeting these requirements, and establishing further regulatory oversight of cash service provision. Following the publication of the Government’s consultation, and our commitment to review our guidance in light of legislation and market developments, we are considering whether we need to introduce further rules or guidance on bank branch closures to help protect reasonable access to cash and banking services. 

The story so far

As part of the Joint Authorities Cash Strategy Group, alongside the Bank of England and the Treasury, the FCA and PSR have been collecting evidence, data and research to support individual and collaborative work on access to cash.

During the pandemic, along with the PSR, we worked closely with industry to address the challenges of ensuring cash access for the people who want to use it. As a result, even at the height of the pandemic no more than 0.1% of the UK population lost access to a source of cash within 3 miles. We published a short statement on this work in June 2020 and an Insight article in September 2020.

Together with the PSR, we have also partnered with the University of Bristol last year to produce a comprehensive assessment of cash access across the UK. We found that 95% of people were able to access cash in urban areas within 650 metres and in rural areas within 3.5km.

In September 2020, we published guidance setting out our expectation that firms should consider the impact of branch and ATM closures on their customers’ everyday banking needs and consider the availability and provision of alternatives. Sheldon Mills, Executive Director of Consumers and Competition, also highlighted the importance of action by individual firms and the wider industry at the Which? Cash Summit in May 2021. We have been supervising bank branch closures closely, assessing plans based on the risk of harm to consumers. In January 2021, we asked banks to pause closures where, due to the pandemic, they are unable to meet the expectations laid out in our guidance.

Our updated assessment of the UK’s cash infrastructure and new consumer research into cash use

Next steps

This evidence base of access to cash and banking services will help inform our work and the work of external stakeholders, including consumer bodies, the Government and the industry Action group.

We will continue taking a data-led approach to access to cash in supervising branch and ATM closures and conversions while supporting the Government in the development of legislation. We are considering whether we need to introduce further rules or guidance on bank branch closures to help protect reasonable access to cash and banking services. We intend to update on the next steps on this work in Q4 this year. We will also continue to monitor trends in cash access through our quarterly updates and will build on this to inform our approach to cash.

We welcome the commitment from individual firms and the banking and finance industry to take forward action to protect access to cash and close gaps in provision. We expect the Industry Action Group to take forward its work transparently and in partnership with other stakeholders such as consumer bodies.

Jointly with the PSR, we will continue to work in an open and transparent way with consumer bodies and the firms we regulate, using our full range of regulatory tools where we need to. We will focus on preventing harm for consumers who depend on cash due to often because of a characteristic of vulnerability such as ill health, a life event, low financial resilience or low financial or digital capability.

We will update this page as our work progresses.