The high price of ATM promiscuity

featuring Josh Fear in ABC Radio National

We take it for granted: cold, hard cash on demand. Any time. Any place. And if we can’t find an ATM operated by our own bank, then we’re prepared to throw money — big money — at whatever we can find. Whether it be a hole in the wall at our laundromat, or a free-standing machine in the shopping centre, we’re happy to pay extra to get our cash right away. In fact, each year Australians spend $753 million on fees to operators of so-called ‘third party’ ATMs — that is, machines which aren’t operated by the institution with which we bank. In most cases, third party ATMs charge $2 a for every withdrawal and for every account balance inquiry, a cost which can quickly add up. But are consumers being ripped off? Or, rather, are consumers being charged an appropriate fee for the convenience of withdrawing cash where ever and when ever they want? Opinions differ. The Australia Institute has released a report called ‘The Price of Disloyalty: why competition has failed to lower ATM fees’, which argues that the 2009 reforms to the sector changed the business model, but not the outcome for consumers.

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