SEOUL: Local banks have been closing down their automated teller machines (ATMs), pulling out of the high-cost service to transfer resources to more promising mobile banking, industry watchers said Thursday.
The top seven commercial banks led by market No. 1 Shinhan Bank and Kookmin Bank ran a combined 32,256 ATMs nationwide as of September last year, down 3.6 percent from 33,459 at the end of 2013, according to data from the industry. The other five banks are Woori Bank, Hana Bank, Foreign Exchange Bank, Citibank Korea Inc. and Standard Chartered Bank Korea.
These banks have shut the machines down in hundreds across the country during the January-September period of 2014. Shinhan got rid of 270 ATMs and Kookmin 170.
Foreign banks were no different, as Citibank Korea shut down 146, and SC Bank Korea closed 338.
The pace of the closure was gaining as well. The 3.6 percent drop in the number of ATMs last year was much faster than a 0.9 on-year percent fall in 2013.
Market watchers say that the mobile banking trend heavily affected demand for conventional banking services as a growing number of people resort to smartphones or other mobile devices instead for their financial transactions, much more convenient since they can take care of such a task at home or work without having to go to a bank or search for an ATM.
According to the Bank of Korea data, local banks had 101 million registered users of their Internet banking service as of the end of third quarter last year. There were 45.6 million clients registered with their mobile-based banking services.
“The fall in the number of bank ATMs is getting faster,” said Lee Jin-soo from the Bank Examination Department of the Financial Supervisory Service, citing the change of banking trend.
Some experts say that despite the continuing closures, South Korean banks still have too many ATMs that end up raising their business costs and erode their profitability.
According to data compiled by the Korea Institute of Finance (KIF), South Korea had 290 ATMs for 100,000 people as of 2012, higher than 222.8 of Canada, 180.9 of Portugal and 173.1 of the United States.
“The South Korean bank industry is nearly overbanked, meaning that there are too many bank branches and as well as ATMs across the country. It has reached a critical level of saturation,” said Kim Woo-jin, a senior researcher at the KIF.
“ATMs, particularly, are very costly to operate and maintain the machines, and banks are under government pressure to lower ATM transaction fees.”
He said one ATM incurs some 1.66 million won in costs every year.