Our longstanding campaign to keep cash on the high street has not been lost in all the coronavirus fog. Far from it.
Although the Government has already promised to legislate to preserve access to cash, it seems that some organisations are prepared to act now to give a cash lifeline to communities deprived of an ATM or a bank branch.
Furthermore, they’re keen to tell us before anyone else because of the stellar campaigning we’ve been doing on this issue over many months. Step forward the mighty Lloyds Bank. It has told The Mail on Sunday – on an ‘exclusive’ basis – that it is about to launch a new cashback initiative with local retailers. This will result in some 500 retailers up and down the country offering cashback facilities for the first time. All will be business customers of the bank.
A good sign: Lloyds Bank is about to launch a new cashback initiative with local retailers
It will not just be corner shops that will be targeted, but pharmacies, cafes and pubs – provided, of course, they survive the draconian new tiering system about to be imposed on the country.
The retailers, says Lloyds, will all be in communities where cash cannot currently be readily accessed from a nearby post office, bank branch (shutting by the day), free-to-use cash machine or via an existing cashback facility. Such cash ‘cold- spots’, it says, will typically be in remote rural communities.
The amount of cash that shoppers will be able to obtain will be capped at £100 although it might be less at retailers where their cash float will not support such an amount.
It will also only be available to shoppers who have bought an item at the retailer – the Government is hopeful that cashback will soon be available to shoppers without a purchase being required.
Lloyds says it has already begun targeting retailers in communities where cash availability is low. But it will probably not be until the New Year that its ‘recruitment’ process swings into overdrive.
On Friday, Philip Robinson, the bank’s payments guru, told me: ‘We want to work with retailers in communities where we know cashback can be a quick and efficient way to retain free access to cash.
‘Initiatives such as this will help us understand more about changing customer behaviour so we can work with our partners to safeguard access to cash for those who continue to rely on it.’
Of course, you could argue that Lloyds has itself exacerbated the access to cash crisis by continually closing branches and ATMs – more than 600 branches across its Halifax, Lloyds and Bank of Scotland brands since January 2015.
Furthermore, 56 branches, due to shut this year but kept open in the wake of the pandemic, will still shut for good in the spring. Yet its cashback initiative is a genuine effort by a bank to ensure countrywide access to cash – in a world where contactless payment is very much of the moment.
So its move should be applauded.
But let’s not get too carried away. Cashback is not the only answer to ensuring cash remains readily accessible on the high street. The banks – including Lloyds – need to back shared branches as an alternative to leaving communities bankless.
Also, there should be a greater role for post offices – just given a £50million Government lifeline to ensure the protection of 3,200 branches designated as ‘last shop in the village’.
The Government’s legislation on access to cash is eagerly awaited.