Ireland Returning to Cash
A Central Bank of Ireland publication exploring cash withdrawals before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic has found a one-off downturn in monthly withdrawals in spring 2020 followed by a rise in overall value withdrawn in line with rising consumer prices.
The Economic Letter—ATM Cash Withdrawals Before, During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic—opens with the observation that despite ‘a partial shift’ from cash payments to cards and other cashless options, ‘cash remains a widely-used payment instrument in Ireland and throughout Europe.’
The appeal of cash, relative to cards, arises, among other attributes, from its protecting the privacy of its holder, its allowing money balances to be held in person—as opposed to in a bank account—and its benefits in budgeting by assisting an easy tracking of expenditure and in the avoidance of overspending.
In Ireland, cash use is highest among working class individuals, older age groups and people living in rural areas. The letter also notes cash has broad appeal for budgeting and as a store of value, with the onset of the pandemic seeing a rise in circulating cash as people sought the reassurance of having physical money on hand in case of emergency.
Ireland’s primary means of withdrawing cash is via ATMs, and the letter reports ATM usage appears to have been corresponding with higher inflation rates since autumn 2021. The amount withdrawn in June 2022 was seven percent higher than in September 2021 (with seasonal adjustments) while the Consumer Price Index rose by the same amount in the same period.
The letter observes a clear seasonal pattern in cash withdrawals, with consistent peaks in December. Otherwise, between 2015 and 2020, ATM withdrawals were broadly unchanging, seeing average monthly withdrawals of €1.51 billion per month. From March to May 2020—the duration of a severe lockdown—withdrawals fell substantially before rising once more, exceeding €1 billion a month from early 2022. The number of withdrawals has also been increasing since January 2021, from 5.23 million that month to 7.95 million in June 2022.