What’s happening?

In recent years, Belgium has witnessed a significant transformation in its financial landscape: the progressive removal of ATMs. By the end of July 2023, there were only 3,049 locations with at least one withdrawal point, a considerable drop from over 3,400 the previous summer, representing a decline of nearly 10%. 

Once essential for accessing cash, these machines are becoming increasingly rare on the streets and in businesses throughout the country.  

This evolution raises fundamental questions about the reasons behind this shift, the implications for the Belgian population, and thoughts about the future of cash. 

Causes of the Disappearance 

Several factors have contributed to the decline in the number of ATMs in Belgium. 

Firstly, the rise of electronic payments and online transactions (further exacerbated by the Coronavirus crisis) has diminished the need for using cash. Credit cards, mobile payment apps, and online payment solutions have gained popularity, making electronic transactions more convenient and faster (currently, in Belgium, less than half of all payments are still made in cash). 

Furthermore, the maintenance and security of ATMs require substantial investments from banks and operators. The risks associated with theft and fraud have compelled certain institutions to reduce their physical presence in favor of more secure alternatives. 

Consequences for the Population 

The removal of ATMs carries significant consequences for Belgian citizens. Primarily, it can render access to cash more challenging, particularly for the elderly or those living in rural areas. This can also result in additional costs for consumers who must travel to distant ATMs or use ATMs from other networks. Additionally, some citizens prefer cash for reasons of privacy and expenditure control. The disappearance of ATMs may curtail their ability to manage their finances conventionally. 

Belgian authorities have also begun taking measures to ensure equitable access to cash across the nation. In this regard, an agreement regarding ATM accessibility was forged in April 2023 between the federal government, the Belgian financial sector federation Febelfin, and Batopin*. This new protocol establishes guidelines for the deployment and management of ATMs, emphasizing geographic and social accessibility. This includes the imperative of maintaining a sufficient number of ATMs in rural areas and underserved neighborhoods (by 2027, there should remain 4,000 ATMs in Belgium). Moreover, the protocol addresses concerns related to costs linked with transactions conducted via ATMs. 

Simultaneously, some municipalities are striving to counter the closure of ATMs. For example, the city of Rixensart launched a concession for the installation of an ATM (after a petition), to counter the disappearance of an ATM in the city center. The reason is to protect the businesses and the dynamism of the city. 

Reflections on the Future 

While the elimination of ATMs might appear inevitable at first glance, it is imperative to contemplate its impact on financial inclusion and security. Belgian authorities must ensure that all populations, including the most vulnerable, maintain continuous access to cash. This underscores the necessity of adapting legislation to reflect changes in payment behaviors while upholding the fundamental principles of financial inclusion and freedom of choice. 

This could involve establishing alternative access points and implementing measures to encourage responsible use of cash. 

In conclusion, the disappearance of ATMs in Belgium reflects a global trend towards electronic payments, but it also raises concerns about financial access and privacy. Achieving a balance between technological innovation and the diverse needs of citizens will be crucial in shaping the future of the Belgian financial system. 

*Batopin is a consortium created nearly 3 years ago, between four banks (BNP Paribas Fortis, Belfius, KBC, and ING). Its objective is to redeploy the banknote distribution network and install non branded ATM (Cash Points). 


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