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22 July 2021 General
Geldmaat

Consumers from vulnerable groups such as senior citizens, disabled people and those with low digital skills experience a decline in the accessibility and availability of payment services. This seems to be related to the fact that banks increasingly digitalise their services and close branches. At the same time, the accessibility and availability of payment services for average consumers are still adequate. This has emerged from research by De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) on behalf of the National Forum on the Payment System (NFPS). The NFPS has drawn up an action plan to counter the negative impact of current developments on vulnerable groups.

Payment services have become less accessible and available to vulnerable groups

DNB periodically produces the Availability Monitor on behalf of the NFPS. One of the issues examined is how different groups of consumers perceive the accessibility and availability of payment services.

The 2021 Accessibility Monitor shows that consumers from vulnerable groups, such as senior citizens, disabled people and those with low digital skills now rate their overall satisfaction with banking and payment services lower than in 2016, when the previous monitor was issued: an average of 7.1 against an average of 7.5 in 2016 (see Table 1).

Ratings for overall satisfaction with banking and payment services

Overall satisfaction among different vulnerable groups varies between 6.5 and 7.4. The NFPS is concerned about the fact that overall satisfaction among certain vulnerable groups has fallen below 7.0 for the first time since the launch of the Monitor in 2007.

Compared to average consumers, people from vulnerable groups also experience lower levels of independence in handling their daily banking matters. Among some groups of vulnerable people, around 50% of respondents indicated they are able to handle their daily banking matters independently – which means the other 50% are unable to do so. Among non-vulnerable groups some 89% indicate they handle their banking themselves.

Among the most vulnerable groups, when asked whether their independence deteriorated, improved or stayed the same compared to three years ago, more respondents report a deterioration than an improvement (see Chart 1). For average consumers (i.e. the control group) the reverse situation applies, however.

Changes in level of independence compared to three years ago

The Availability Monitor also shows that vulnerable groups now give lower ratings to basic payment services related to local bank branches, such as opening hours and distance to a bank branch, depositing cash and the bank's helpdesk or customer service. Some groups now give average ratings of 6.0 or lower. In 2016, there were almost twice as many bank branches as in 2021.

Accessibility and availability are adequate for the average consumer

The 2021 Availability Monitor shows that the perceived accessibility and availability of payment services for average consumers improved slightly, and that they gave a slightly higher overall rating for payment services compared to 2016 (See Table 1). Average consumers indicate they are able to handle their banking matters more independently.

All in all, average consumers seem to benefit from the ongoing digitalisation of payment services, while this trend, combined with the closure of bank branches, has a negative effect on the perceived levels of independence and satisfaction among people from vulnerable groups.

The national coverage of ATMs remained stable, but that of cash deposit facilities did not

The Availability Monitor also monitors the physical infrastructure of the payment system, such as the number of ATMs and cash deposit facilities , and their distribution across the Netherlands. The NFPS has set a standard for assessing whether the national coverage of ATMs is sufficient. According to this standard, every resident of the Netherlands must have access to an ATM within a 5 km radius based on their postcode area. At the end of 2020, this was true for 99.5% of all households (see Table 2). In 2016 the accessibility rate was similar . However, the number of ATMs has fallen sharply compared to 2016, when there were one and a half times as many.

The accessibility of cash deposit facilities for retailers has fallen from 97.18% in 2016 to 93.51% in 2021 (see Table 2). A large number of cash deposit facilities have been temporarily closed due to explosive attacks.

Accessibility of ATMs and cash deposit facilities

Action plan for accessible payments

The NFPS has drawn up an action plan to reverse the negative trend for vulnerable groups, consisting of three components: Firstly, people from vulnerable groups must be better informed of the banks’ initiatives to improve accessibility. Secondly, personal attention at the local level must be improved where needed, for example by creating a road map for closing bank branches and setting up service points in places where bank branches have disappeared. Thirdly, the NFPS must work together with civil society organisations to identify the specific needs of vulnerable groups and find solutions to meet those needs.