The world’s first ATM was installed this week in 1967. Are the cash machine’s days numbered?

Image: AP/Alastair Grant
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This week, in 1967, the world’s first ATM was installed. The cash machine was set up outside a branch of Barclays in Enfield, north London. Starting on June 27, 1967, people no longer had to rely on tellers at banks, which often closed in the mid-afternoon, to access their cash.

At the time, plastic bank cards hadn’t yet been invented, so the machine took checks and only dispensed £10 at a time. (To be fair, that’s worth around £370 in today’s money.) John Shepherd-Barron, who invented the first automated teller machine, died in 2010 a month before his 85th birthday. He said the idea was inspired by a chocolate bar dispenser.

A half a century later, Brits are turning away from cash. Last year, electronic debit card payments outnumbered physical money for the first time, according UK Finance. Unsurprisingly, the number of ATMs in Britain has been shrinking alongside the drop in physical cash transactions.

In 2017, there were about 69,600 ATMs in the UK, according to LINK, the network that nearly every UK cash machine is connected to. This is down from the all-time high of 70,600 in 2015.

Most of the decline comes from fewer fee-charging ATMs. LINK said that these now account for less than 3% of cash withdrawals (pdf). Free-to-use ATMs, however, are still growing in numbers. Since having cash is no longer so urgent, consumers seem less willing to pay a fee to use an ATM.

Although ATMs may be on the way out in places like the UK, globally the number of cash machines is still on the rise, as is the use of cash. The amount of cash in circulation has risen from 7% of global GDP in 2010 to 9% in 2016. The number of ATMs grew by 3%, to 3.36 million, in 2016, with most of the increase coming from Asia, according to research and consulting firm RBR (pdf). As fintech companies make mobile payments easier, the number of ATMs may not grow as fast as in the past, but reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated.