Macau world’s second densest ATM hotspot

IMF report shows gaming hub topped only by South Korea for number of ‘holes in the wall’ per head, as access to cash also widens in poor countries

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 11:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 12:05pm

As the reality of how much you spent over the festive season dawns at the ATM, and you consider the fast-approaching financial hit Year of the Rooster celebrations will provide, take a second to consider how ubiquitous “hole in the wall’’ cash dispensing has become.

In the smartphone age, in which digital currencies bring the promise of a cashless society ever closer, the increasingly humble-looking automated teller machine is still king for most of us. And nowhere is that truer than in Macau, which is now more densely packed with ATMs than almost anywhere else on the planet.

According to a major study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – updated since its initial release late last year – only South Korea has more cash machines per head than the former Portuguese enclave.

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The IMF’s annual Financial Access Survey – which is backed by arguably the world’s wealthiest couple, Bill and Melinda Gates – found that in 2015, Macau had 254 ATMs per 100,000 adults, just short of South Korea with 278 per 100,000 adults.

Using the same measure, Hong Kong has five times fewer ATMs per head than its sister special administrative region, with just 49 cash dispensers per 100,000 adults.

Macau’s ATM explosion is just one of the consequences of a gaming revolution over the past 15 years that has seen the city surpass Las Vegas in financial terms, fuelled by a massive influx of mainland visitors with an appetite for hard currency that keeps the city beeping out money 24/7.

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The number of ATMs in Macau has more than quadrupled since the gaming industry was liberalised in 2001. Three years into the revolution, in 2004 – the first year the of the IMF study – there were only 56 cash dispensers in the city per 100,000 adults.

In comparison, the rise in ATM numbers in Hong Kong seems snail-paced.

For instance, between 2010 and 2015 the ATM count per 100,000 adults in Macau went from 139 to 254, while in Hong Kong the same figures were 46 and 49.

The huge rise in cash dispensing in Macau becomes even more spectacular when you compare the 56 ATMs the city had for 100,000 adults in 2004 with the 254 per 100,000 it had last year.

Not only does that dwarf Hong Kong fivefold, it is also three times more than the mainland, which has 76 ATMs per 100,000 adults, up from just 9 in 2006.

Separate data released to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in November showed that the number of bank branches in Hong Kong went from 1,122 in 2005 to 1,174 in 2015.

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The Legco report read: “Around 30 per cent of financial transactions are conducted at branch counters, while remaining transactions are completed through ATM, phone and internet banking services.”

The IMF described its survey as a key source of data on financial inclusion, and said the information for it comes from administrative data collected from both traditional financial service providers – like commercial banks, microfinance institutions, or other deposit-taking institutions – and providers of digital financial services such as so-called mobile money.

It said the important role of digital financial services in promoting the spread of financial inclusion was recognised under the leadership of the Chinese G20 presidency in 2015.

The survey also takes a wider perspective, pointing out that the number of ATMs per head in the world’s poorest nations has risen “remarkably’’.

It also addresses the transformational role of mobile money on global financial inclusion.

“Over the past decade, sending, receiving, and storing money using mobile phones (frequently referred to as ‘mobile money’) demonstrated the potential to improve the lives of the poor by providing access to financial services to previously ‘unbanked’ populations,’’ the report said.

It added that the latest results for the likes of Bangladesh, Kenya and Mexico revealed “interesting” cross-regional variations in the use of, and access to, financial services via mobile money.