The Covid-19 pandemic and the world’s response to it has dramatically altered the retail financial services market. In the short-term, the pandemic brought rapid change in pursuit of survival, with strict lockdowns having a severe effect on the foot traffic at bank branches. Nearly all transactions would have had to be done digitally or at an ATM.
In a post-pandemic world, where digital banking and fewer face-to-face transactions becomes the norm, the use of ATMs is going to become more prevalent as there is no face-to-face communication and engagement with people who could potentially transmit the virus when using an ATM.
Right time right place
Typically, in “war-like” times such as we face currently where the enemy is faceless and growing exponentially, there are always pockets of opportunity and pockets of loss or change. For ATMs, the pandemic brought them into the spotlight as the South African Government deemed ATM’s an “essential service”.
ATMs were now seen as crucial conduits of connection between people and cash. This was particularly important for the millions of South Africans living in the rural areas, and even more important since we know that more than 50% of South African consumers complete transactions using cash.
Many financial institutions, technology providers and payment organisations are motivated in pushing consumers away from cash towards other payment channels, citing cash as being able to transmit Covid-19. The World Health Organisation has since dismissed such claims.
Cash vs Cashless
In fact, various reports have conclusively proven that card and digital payments remain far from contactless. Plastic cards, card terminals and smartphones can also collect pathogens and that cash is as safe a payment vehicle as any other. Essentially, whichever instruments you use for payment methods, you should wash or sanitise your hands as good hygiene.
As the leading independent ATM deployer in South Africa, we are in the unique position to not only see the value-add that cash is giving millions of South Africans, but also attest to the strong and steady demand for cash, especially during Covid-19. The Social Grants recipients relied on the ATMs for receiving their grants, often standing in queues from midnight before the funds were released to access their funds to buy food, clothing and medicines.
Post Covid-19; the new normal
As we cast an eye to a post Covid-19 world, the role of an ATM is going to become more diverse and even more important. In reality, expensive brand-centric branch construction is unlikely to continue, especially in an environment where consumers actively avoid spending much time in enclosed spaces unless they absolutely must. The conundrum for banks is how do they connect with their customers when fewer customers are visiting the branches? The answer lies in the other physical channel – the ATM.
The desire to retain a “convenience-orientated” brand can be achieved by banks maintaining or even growing a more convenient physical network by developing a stronger branded ATM channel. Branded ATM sites typically located in retail, petroleum and hospitality locations can certainly expand the branch network. Branded ATMs carry the branded experience of the bank, from the physical look of the machine to the ATM interface and even marketing messages. Maintaining a strong physical brand presence, while reducing footfall at branches, requires an increase in branded ATM touchpoints.
ATM technologies have advanced rapidly in recent years. Besides just withdrawing of cash, ATMs can accept deposits, send money to other recipients, conduct balance and statement enquiries, assist with changing of card pins, to name just a few of the services it can provide. In addition, security measures in terms of software, hardware, card-readers and the like have dramatically improved making it that much harder to penetrate and or hack. The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the need to redefine the experience for bank customers, making branch transformation a topic with some urgency. Branches must shift from primary transactional centers to primary advice and assistance centres. ATMs are uniquely positioned and primed and ready to take advantage of the opportunities that “war-like” times often present.