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Andy McDonald, vice president of Merchant Payments at ACI Worldwide, who has more than 20 years’ experience in the payments industry, provides insight into whether ATMs have a well-earned retirement awaiting, or if we’ll still be using them in 50 years’ time.

The ATM is about to turn 50, and your professional background means that you’ve witnessed a lot of change directly – what’s the single biggest change that you’ve seen in your time in the industry?

Andy McDonald: When I started out in the industry as a vendor for ATMs, they were universally referred to as a ‘cash point’ or just the ‘hole in the wall.’ Their function? Dispensing money, primarily during the times when banks were trying to encourage tellers to turn into sellers by migrating transactions from the counter to a cash machine. For me, the biggest change is that ATMs have moved from being a peripheral or accessory to core banking services, to being completely central. ATMs haven’t changed that much, but offer a much wider range of services than they once did. As a result, for many people in the UK, a trip to the physical branch does not necessarily mean speaking with anyone directly – as ATMs have become more sophisticated self-service kiosks. The general public is also increasingly comfortable with accessing services in this way.

Though, is it fair to say that dispensing cash still remains the raison d’être for ATMs, especially those in an off-premise environment? How is the shift away from cash, toward digital payments going to impact the ATM?

AM: Despite the widespread projections of a ‘cashless society,’ I don’t see the ATM heading for retirement any time soon – and I’m not just saying that because ACI powers some of the largest ATM estates in the world. In fact, I believe that the trend toward banks closing regional branches will put a greater emphasis on role and functions of the ATM, and they really will become a “bank in a box.” As a result, financial institutions must continue to invest in ATM technology, even if cash usage declines. At the global level, ATM deployment continues to rise, as emerging economies roll out estates to service their customer bases.

So there will be competition between banks as to which can provide the best, and most comprehensive “bank in a box” – are there other ways in which the role of ATMs will change?

AM: The increasingly competitive environment will mean that the ATM becomes a core customer touchpoint; part of banks’ efforts to provide an omni-channel service approach as part of their customer experience. Banks see that the ATM can be used to communicate with their own customers and those of other banks during the transaction process, with targeted messaging and loyalty benefits. In the UK at least, banks are increasingly offering their customers benefits and promotions in partnership with selected merchants.

How can this approach potentially increase ‘stickiness’ – and are there any specific examples that you’ve seen work well?

AM: Well, for example, Barclays and Nationwide Building Society offering football fans access to tickets, whilst promoting their own services. This creates habitual usage of a machine for customers, and increases loyalty to that bank from the customer. There is so much scope these days to personalise the experience to each customer and these promotional schemes benefits can be customized and tailored. Related, the ATM screen becomes more important than ever before, as it increasingly replaces the human teller; the screen becomes a focal point for brand recognition.

What are your thoughts on fees for ATM usage – given the changing role of ATMs, as you’ve discussed. Will different models emerge?

AM: The attitude toward paying for services varies across the globe, but in UK there has been debate about this ever since independent ATM deployers started installing machines in convenience locations such as corner shops, nightclubs, petrol stations and bankless branch locations. It all depends on the value of the service to the customer and how they perceive the inconvenience of travelling further to receive ‘free to use’ services. Nothing has fundamentally changed here, but by adding more value to the transaction and experience, the customer is more likely to continue to use that service and be happy to do so.

Overall, the picture that you’re painting suggests evolution – rather than extinction – of the ATM. What do you see then as the main barriers to truly shifting to a cashless society, which would seem to be a prerequisite for the demise of the ATM?

AM: The ATMs located all over the globe are an asset to everyone associated with them; whether they are dispensing cash, bitcoin or any other new payment service that develops over time. Customer demand for speed and convenience is the reason the ATM was introduced in the first place; it remains the main benefit today and will be in the future. The global nature of usage, accessible anytime and in real-time, enables deployers to think about what services are applicable through the ATM screen. That said, the days of looking at the message “please wait while your cash is being counted” are truly behind us.

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We cannot ‘lockdown’ to avoid the climate crisis



We cannot ‘lockdown’ to avoid the climate crisis 1

By Vaughan Lindsay, CEO, ClimateCare

The parallels between the Coronavirus response and how we could all collaboratively tackle the climate crisis should not be overlooked. Tackling either problem, for instance, has changed our lifestyle in so many ways. In short, we have all have to make adaptations for a much longer-term gain. I also believe that the pandemic has highlighted to us all that we can live differently; indeed, that we are all incredibly adaptable.

We cannot isolate from the climate crisis.

Nevertheless, there are also some very important differences too; namely the speed in which we witness effects and how long we will all live with the impact. Covid-19 is more immediate, it’s on everyone’s minds (no matter how fatigued we all are by the topic after a year of living with it). Climate change, on the other hand, feels like a much longer-term threat which doesn’t invoke the same kind of unease or fear – or at least not enough for people to take immediate action. Yet, as Mark Carney so eloquently summed up recently, the world is heading for mortality rates equivalent to the Covid crisis every year by mid-century unless action is taken right now. “One of the biggest issues is you cannot self-isolate from climate,” he said. “That is not an option. We cannot retreat in and wait out climate change, it will just get worse.” Bill Gates also further highlighted the severity of the situation too when he recently commented that solving climate change would be “the most amazing thing humanity has ever done” and by comparison, ending the pandemic is “very, very easy”, the billionaire founder of Microsoft claimed.

Taking action.

Ultimately, the short-term imperative of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic doesn’t alter the urgency of dealing with the climate crisis. And certainly, there is currently no ‘silver bullet’ for solving either the pandemic or climate change. However, there are a set of agreed actions that every business and individual can (and should) take to help tackle these issues. To tackle Covid-19 we lockdown, we work from home, we continue social distancing, washing our hands and wearing masks to protect one another and the NHS. And of course, we continue to roll out the vaccines and treatments for longer term protection.

On the other hand, we cannot lockdown to tackle the climate crisis. Rather for climate change, it’s about understanding and taking responsibility for our climate impact, both by changing our behaviour to reduce our carbon footprint and by decarbonising many of our business models and lifestyles. .

Vaughan Lindsay

Vaughan Lindsay

Now is the time to build back better.

To ‘build back better’ then we need to work towards a sustainable low or zero carbon recovery, and this needs to be done with realism and integrity. Not only does this mean that we need to work together to create integrated and robust climate strategies, but we also need to take action to decarbonise sooner rather than later and while we make these structural changes, we need to ensure that we are compensating for all residual emissions as part of everyday business too.

Taking action (over pledges).

Despite the pandemic, it was encouraging last year to see the ever-increasing number of corporates committing to achieve Net Zero status. However, whilst it is great to see firms working hard to measure their footprint and set reduction targets, many firms still admitted to us that they are waiting to get this right before they take action to reduce and compensate for their emissions. This remains a concern. Because, whilst these plans and long-term targets are commendable, they do little for the environmental damage that is being done right now. There is a risk of action hiding behind plans.

Ultimately, we need to more than halve emissions by 2030; this is equivalent to reducing the current emissions of China, India, the EU and the US combined. It’s a mammoth task. To tackle it we need to drive actions simultaneously and at pace, and then modify and adjusting moving forward. In simple terms, there really isn’t time to take things one step at a time anymore. We need to take action right away. As such – and as we continue through this coming year – we need to see more of these ambitious plans and statements put into practice, as companies continue to turn their plans (and pledges) into action.

Time to raise the bar.

The issue of climate change is now central to nearly all forward-thinking corporates and we are now witnessing one of most encouraging environments for them to act on this. It’s vital to ensure that the role of the voluntary carbon market delivers real additional emission reductions on the ground and at scale.

Never before has there been a better time to raise the bar and our own ambitions about what positive corporate action looks like. Because the climate will not respond to targets and pledges. Only action counts.

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UK house price growth picks up unexpectedly in February – Nationwide



UK house price growth picks up unexpectedly in February - Nationwide 2

LONDON (Reuters) – British house price growth picked up unexpectedly last month, mortgage lender Nationwide said on Tuesday, defying expectations of a slowdown as finance minister Rishi Sunak readies new budget measures to boost the market.

House prices rose 6.9% in annual terms in February from 6.4% in January, Nationwide said, above all forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists that had pointed to a slowdown to 5.6%.

In February alone, prices rose 0.7%, more than reversing a 0.2% decline in January and bucking expectations for a 0.3% drop.

Nationwide said the outlook for the housing market was particularly uncertain right now, with the potential for it to be boosted further by Sunak when he presents his annual budget on Wednesday.

But the market could slow because of a weakening labour market, the lender said.

Sunak looks set to extend a temporary cut to property purchase taxes until June and announce a new mortgage guarantee scheme for first-time buyers, according to media reports.

Samuel Tombs, economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics consultancy, said he doubted any new scheme would solve affordability problems faced by first-time buyers.

“Nonetheless, our forecast for house prices to drop by about 2% this year now looks too downbeat, though we’ll wait for details of the guarantee scheme to be released before providing new numbers,” Tombs said.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce; editing by Michael Holden)

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Jack Ma loses title as China’s richest man after coming under Beijing’s scrutiny



Jack Ma loses title as China's richest man after coming under Beijing's scrutiny 3

By Yingzhi Yang and Brenda Goh

BEIJING (Reuters) – Alibaba and Ant Group founder Jack Ma has lost the title of China’s richest man, a list published on Tuesday showed, as his peers prospered while his empire was put under heavy scrutiny by Chinese regulators.

Ma and his family had held the top spot for China’s richest in the Hurun Global Rich List in 2020 and 2019 but now trail in fourth place behind bottled water maker Nongfu Spring’s Zhong Shanshan, Tencent Holding’s Pony Ma and e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo’s Collin Huang, the latest list showed.

His fall on anti-trust issues,” the Hurun report said.

Ma’s recent woes were triggered by an Oct. 23 speech in which he blasted China’s regulatory system, leading to the suspension of his Ant Group’s $37 billion IPO just days before the fintech giant’s public listing.

Regulators have since tightened anti-trust scrutiny on the country’s tech sector, with Alibaba taking much of the heat; the market regulator launched an official anti-trust probe into Alibaba in December.

Chinese regulators also began to tighten their grip on the fintech sector and have asked Ant to fold some of its businesses into a financial holding company to be regulated like traditional financial firms.

Ma, who is not known for shying away from the limelight, then disappeared from the public eye for about three months, triggering frenzied speculation about his whereabouts. He re-emerged in January with a 50-second video appearance.

China’s current richest man, Zhong, made his first appearance at the top spot largely thanks to the share price performances of Nongfu Spring and vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise, which he also controls.

Tencent’s Ma saw his wealth swell 70% over the year to 480 billion yuan ($74.16 billion) while Pinduoduo’s Huang’s fortune grew 283% to 450 billion yuan, the list said. In comparison, the wealth of Ma and his family grew 22%, to 360 billion yuan.

Zhang Yiming, founder of TikTok owner ByteDance, broke into the top five rankings among Chinese billionaires in Hurun’s Global Rich List for the first time, with an estimated personal wealth of $54 billion.

($1 = 6.4724 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Yingzhi Yang in Beijing and Brenda Goh in Shanghai. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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