The Future of Cash: Is the ATM Business Dying?

Is the ATM business dying? The short answer: No. As long as there is cash, there will be ATM machines. 

Not only is cash not going away anytime soon, cash is the most widely accessible payment form. ATMs are needed to keep it that way. Digital payment systems have their place, but so does cash. People love to have options. And they don’t react positively when their choices are taken away.

Cash has been around for about 3,000 years. It won’t disappear overnight. There is actually more currency in circulation now than ever before because of the uncertainty caused by Covid-19 the past year.

Although cash payments may be declining, ATM machines can adapt (and already have been) to an increasingly digital society. So as the needs of the consumer evolve, so too will ATM machines. And you’ll want to be there when they do. 

Digital Payment Systems

There are many alternatives to cash payments. Obviously there is the option to pay with a debit or credit card. You have Automatic Clearing House (ACH) payments directly from a bank account. Your employer likely pays you via direct deposit. 

There are services like PayPal that allow you to make purchases online without even having to enter your payment information each time. Many apps like CashApp, Venmo, and Zelle have been developed to transfer small amounts of money between friends and family when cash isn’t readily accessible. And of course you’ve surely heard the buzz about cryptocurrency.

With all of these payment options, where does cash fit in? It’s enough to make you wonder, Is the ATM business dying?

But cash, like digital payment systems, has its benefits and disadvantages. That’s why we need them both: to keep our options open. 

Drawbacks of Digital Payment Systems

Digital payment systems definitely have their place. They’re efficient and flexible. It’s the only way ecommerce works. You can pay for goods and services with the click of a button. However, there are some drawbacks.

First, it’s risky. Card numbers can be compromised, crypto wallets can be hacked. Digital transactions aren’t tangible, so it’s not easy to keep track of. However, your digital transactions aren’t untraceable.

There is proof of your purchases on receipts, in your email, on your bank statement. Your bank accounts and crypto wallets have your name on them and other personal information attached. This increases the risk of identity theft.

Second, cryptocurrency is extremely volatile right now. There is a lot to learn, and although it isn’t going anywhere, no one is sure what its future looks like. Furthermore, most cryptocurrencies aren’t federally backed, which adds to its risk.

Third, digital payment systems contribute to the digital divide. The digital divide refers to the inaccessibility of the Internet for a certain portion of the population. Not everyone has access to reliable Internet, and not everyone who does have access has the literacy necessary to manage finances digitally. This is a huge disadvantage for those in rural areas, low-income households, and the elderly.

Additionally, mobile payments require the use of a smartphone. Only 85% of Americans own a smartphone. While that may seem like a lot, and it is, 15% is also a lot when you think about the thousands of people for whom mobile payments, online banking apps, and constant access to the Internet aren’t an option. 

So while there are some benefits to digital payment systems, they aren’t perfect, and they exclude certain demographics.

Benefits of Cash

It’s anonymous, it’s stable, and it’s accepted pretty much anywhere (and by anyone).


There are many obvious benefits to cash. First of all, it’s immediate. When you pay with cash, the recipient doesn’t have to wait for a transaction to process, they don’t have to bother with insufficient funds, and you don’t have to worry about overdrawing your account or accruing interest on a credit card transaction. The money is paid. That’s it. It’s done.


Second, cash is physical. It hurts just a little bit more when you pay for something with cash because you can see and feel the money leaving your side. This can help you be more conscious of your spending habits. It also makes it easier for you to keep track of. You don’t have to worry about hackers getting access to your stash remotely.


Third, it’s accessible. Everyone—rich or poor, young or old—has access to cash. You don’t have to be tech savvy or connected to the Internet to manage your cash. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year, that’s good news for the 7% of U.S. adults who don’t use the Internet.

As long as there are unbanked and underbanked people, there will be cash. About 6% of Americans are unbanked while 16% are underbanked. Unbanked people do not have a banking relationship. They either don’t have enough money to bother with an account, can’t keep up with the fees, or just don’t trust banks.

Without a bank account, these people must rely on alternative financial products and services (payday loans, check cashing services, prepaid cards, etc.). They are able to purchase prepaid cards and use them at ATMs without the fear of incurring an overdraft fee if the funds aren’t available.

Underbanked Americans might have a checking and/or savings account but might also rely on alternative financial services. The FDIC’s 2019 How America Banks survey found that 95% (124 million) of U.S. households have at least one bank account. 

That is both the highest number and percent since the survey was first conducted in 2009. That’s good news for cash and ATMs. 


Finally, there is a certain degree of privacy with cash payments. Average cash transactions can’t be tracked, and aside from a paper receipt that can easily be discarded, there is no paper or digital trail. We won’t go into all of the hypothetical scenarios where this might be useful, but many people still value their privacy especially since there is so little of it online.

It is better, easier, and safer to use cash for purchases under $20 to minimize the risk of identity theft.

The Payment Choice Act of 2021

There are some businesses that have chosen to go cashless. However, to keep this from becoming a trend and excluding those who only have access to cash, Congress passed the Payment Choice Act of 2021.

This Act prohibits retail businesses that accept in-person payments from refusing cash. This protects the consumer’s right to use cash at retail businesses.

On the other hand, there are many businesses that encourage cash payments because they are charged fees for every credit card transaction they process. Cash payments also decrease their rate of chargeback fees which saves businesses money as well.

The Future of ATM Machines

Although cash payments are decreasing, it isn’t because cash isn’t valuable. It’s just because there are so many more options. There is more currency in circulation than ever before.

The current environment in light of Covid-19 has made ATM machines more necessary than ever. Banks are limiting traffic in their lobbies to keep up with social distancing protocols and for the overall health of their customers. ATMs allow customers to access their accounts with limited personal interaction, which is appreciated by more and more people these days.

ATMs serve other purposes, too. They not only allow users to make deposits and withdrawals, they also provide business owners with other marketing opportunities. Offering ATM access in their stores increases foot traffic, impulse purchases, and overall business.

ATMs can be fitted with toppers to run ads, screens are getting bigger to accommodate advertising, and coupons can be printed on receipts to encourage future purchases.

ATMs are also starting to feature Bitcoin capabilities. So if you get into the ATM business now, there’s no telling what opportunities lie ahead. Your business will be able to grow with the times if cryptocurrency is something you are interested in.

Is the ATM Business Dying?

Although there are many digital payment options available, cash is still a winning option for a number of reasons. Cash payments are decreasing, but that’s just because more and more transactions are happening online. It doesn’t mean those are the only transactions happening. 

In order for cash to be completely eliminated, it would have to be by government decree. Since the government easily collects taxes on currency, it isn’t likely that a decree like this will happen anytime soon.

So to answer the burning question, “Is the ATM business dying,” we can confidently say, “No.” Cash still plays a very important role in our society. Therefore, there is still a need for ATMs. There might even be more need now as people shift from in-person bank business due to Covid-19 precautions.

Even IF cash is phased out completely, it won’t happen in our lifetime. Therefore, you are safe to invest in ATM machines and start making passive income!

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