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Test Achats asks government to stop banks removing ATMs

21:30 06/12/2022

Belgian consumer protection agency Test Achats is calling for a temporary freeze on the removal of automatic cash-withdrawal machines planned by many banks across the country.

They group is joined by Financité, an organisation committed to the ethics and solidarity in finance along with Okra, the largest association for seniors in Flanders and Brussels.

ATMs are disappearing as banking becomes increasingly online, which these organisations say poses a problem for people who are cash-reliant, including and perhaps especially the elderly.

Associations for the elderly have already been sounding the alarm about the closure of more physical banking locations for the same reasons.

They are also concerned about banks charging fees for withdrawing cash.

Belgium's four biggest banks - ING, KBC, Belfius and BNP Paribas Fortis - are increasingly removing their own-brand cash machines from locations and replacing them with generic Bancontact ATMs without an individual bank's branding.

Batopin, or the ‘Belgian ATm OPtimisation INitiative’, is a joint project between the four banks, designed to develop an optimised network of ATMs across Belgium with the aim of making sure “cash remains available to everyone”.

“KBC Bank is eliminating its own ATMs on the one hand, and deciding on the other hand to consider Batopin ATMs as external to its network, which de facto makes withdrawals from these ATMs paid-for (€0.50) for some of its customers,” said Test Achats spokeswoman Julie Frère.

“Since then, CBC Bank has followed suit and charges €0.20 per withdrawal for some customers.”

Plans for this pooling of ATM management also includes a dramatic reduction in the number of total machines.

Test Achats, Financité and Okra are calling on the government to guarantee access to cash for the residents of Belgium by forbidding any reduction in ATMs and maintaining the number of machines present on 31 December 2021 as a minimum.

These organisations say that at least 95% of the population must have access to a cash dispenser within 2.5km by road and at least 98% of the population within 5km.

They are also asking that each municipality have at least one machine for every 1,500 inhabitants.

Written by Helen Lyons