Cashless trend cuts into use of Hartsfield-Jackson ATMs

The declining use of cash is causing a shake-up in a banking services contract at Hartsfield-Jackson International.

The proliferation of credit card use means fewer people use cash regularly and has cut demand for ATMs. That makes it less profitable for banks to operate at the airport, prompting changes in how the contract is structured.

The world’s busiest airport plans to rebid a contract for an airport bank with foreign exchange services, after it attracted only one company — SunTrust — interested in operating a branch and ATMs at the airport.

It “didn’t get as much interest as we expected to,” Hartsfield-Jackson concessions manager Pat Armes said.

Wells Fargo currently operates a bank branch in the domestic terminal and ATMs throughout the airport, on a contract the Atlanta City Council recently voted to extend month-to-month while the airport seeks a replacement.

The contract requires minimum annual rent of $1.7 million, but Wells Fargo “expressed hardship” regarding the amount, saying its ATM revenues have declined and “the banking operation is not generating a profit but remains a convenience to the public and employees only,” according to city documents.

The bank is generating about $850,000 in ATM fees and is required to pay 70 percent rent on ATM revenues, according to the city. The Atlanta City Council voted in July to approve an extension with minimum annual rent reduced to $500,000 and allow Wells Fargo to close its bank branch at the airport “due to hardship which has arisen with a decline in ATM usage and banking revenues.” The bank will close on the evening of Aug. 16, but the Wells Fargo ATMs and foreign exchange will stay open until February 2018, according to Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Reese McCranie.

“Because of how financial transactions are starting to take place right now, they aren’t doing really well out there,” Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Roosevelt Council said.

Travelers are under less pressure to have cash, with cabs, Uber and Lyft taking credit cards, and even small shops and restaurants accepting credit cards, a trend fueled by the rise of low-cost processing services such as Square. Cashless payments between individuals also are made easier with services like PayPal and Venmo.

Council said the bank location is likely more often used by airport workers on pay day, “but not necessarily your normal banking transactions that would actually provide profits for a banking institution.” People might not be inclined to go to the airport to take out a car loan, for example.

In an ING international survey this spring, 34 percent of U.S. respondents said they generally do not carry cash.

Asked when they last used cash, 63 percent said in the last three days, 21 percent said last week, 10 percent said last month and 3 percent said last year or longer. Another 3 percent said they could not remember.

Still, about 75 percent of U.S. respondents said they will never go completely cashless.

Armes said the airport will rebid the contract with the aim of attracting more interest.

Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport experienced a similar issue when it rebid its contract for ATMs in 2015, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. At that airport, U.S. Bank "pulled out of negotiations when it realized it would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year" on its ATM machines at the airport, the Star Tribune reported.