War on Cash bogs down, despite best efforts of government, banks, and credit card companies.
Spain’s third biggest lender, CaixaBank, has just launched a pilot project in Madrid aimed at limiting cash services in their branches to less than three hours a day, from 8:15 am to 11 am. After that point, all cash operations, including the settlement of bills and cash withdrawals and deposits, must be conducted through an ATM.
Caixabank is not the first Spanish bank to try out such a scheme, but it is the biggest. Spain’s fourth largest lender, part state-owned Bankia, has removed all cash services from select branches (including my local branch), forcing customers to withdraw or deposit cash at the ATM or travel further afield to another branch that still offers cash services.
It’s part of a broad trend. Bank branches are increasingly becoming so-called “customer advisory points,” where the primary role of branch staff is to sell customers a myriad financial products, many of them no doubt risky.
Those same customers are forced to perform many of the more rudimentary bank operations (cash withdrawals and deposits, transfers, payment of bills…) themselves, either at the ATM or online. It’s a great way of getting your customers to do your work for you while also cutting back on staffing costs.
But this is not just about saving money; it’s about trying to force a dramatic change in customer habits. The more difficult banks make it for their customers to use cash, the more likely those customers are to turn to alternatives, such as P2P payments and wallets, contactless cards, mobile money platforms or CaixaBank’s very own contactless payment bracelet. At least that’s the thinking…