NCB plans 50 new ABMs across Jamaica amidst network strain Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

National Commercial Bank Jamaica (NCBJ) plans to roll out at least 50 more Automated Banking Machines (ABMs), particularly in rural areas across the country.

The plan arises as customers, are forced to rely on point-of-sale terminals and ABMs due to bank branch closures and the expansion of non-contact services, encounter lengthy queues at ABMs and the growing inconvenience of inadequate ABM availability across the island.

Speaking to Loop News following its recent townhall meeting in Mandeville, NCBJ’s CEO, Bruce Bowen, said that while branch closures and banks having none-cash branches “have definitely” impacted the increased utilisation of ABMs, its network remains pivotal to supporting other bank’s customers.

With 38 per cent of commercial banking assets, NCBJ is the largest bank in Jamaica. It has approximately 300 of the 824 ABMs across the country – the largest network amounting to about 36 per cent of the total.

“When banks close branches it’s because they want people to use ABMs,” Bowen noted.

Bowen was responding to questions posed by the media on the criticism that large banks such as NCBJ’s shuttering of bank branches has led to increased demand for ABMs and the resultant inconvenience to the public as many ABMs in town centres are often out of cash, out of service, particularly around the month-end and fortnight payment periods or that there are not enough ABMs islandwide with customers having to wait in line for inordinately long periods.

JN Bank, the country’s third-largest bank by assets, has also pointed to banks closing their branches as one of the reasons behind the increased use of ABMs. It has 146, or about 18 per cent, of the 824 ABMs islandwide.

“I am getting some pressure from some of my competitors but we are going to expand our ABM network. One of the challenges is that 25 to 30 per cent of the transactions on our machines are from other banks and [the fee to these banks] is ridiculously low,” he said.

He wants other  localbanks to pay more to service their customers on NCBJ’s network.

NCBJ earns about $15 to $17 on the transaction when a customer of another bank uses its ABM, Bowen previously said, noting a per-transaction cost of about $70.

“I’ve been talking for a while about the need to get our costs covered. Once we get that done, we have to follow through and put up more ABMs,” Bowen told Loop News.

“I’ve given a challenge to our people to come up with a plan to put out 50 ABMs across the country in the places they are most needed and in the most economical way. We are looking to see how we can have really efficient cash dispensers and what are the right locations,” he said. 

He declined to state the level of investment in the rollout of the new ABMs. However, the plan is to make things easier for people in “the country areas,” he said but did not give a timeline.

“There are areas [where the number of ABMs] is very low,” he said referencing Bank of Jamaica data.

 The BOJ, he said, is also looking to implement standards of operations for banks regarding ABM access to their customers.

“The BOJ is looking into putting in certain standards that if you have an ABM network, you have to have a certain up-time and you need to be giving a certain level of service. But some banks are saying they are small and cannot afford to maintain a network of ABMS,” he said. 

Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS) is the second-biggest bank in Jamaica by assets. It has 292 ABMs, about 35 per cent of the total.

Several banks have closed their branch networks in recent years. In 2022, NCB closed five branches while BNS closed two across 2020 and 2021 as it transitioned six branches into digital locations, no longer processing cash. Both BNS and NCBJ have econcouraged their customers to use the ABM networks instead.

For Bowen, however, while: “There has been an increase in overall utilisation year over year, it’s not as big a percentage as you might think. The big growth is in point-of-sale and other electronic channels.”