More importantly, Barclays' motive for imposing fees has not gone away. Barclays has a network of 1,950 branches and 3,200 cash machines. Prudential's Egg has no branches and no cash machines, but the 600,000 customers who have deposited £6.7bn in its savings accounts can make occasional withdrawals from Barclays' and other Link machines free. Egg's infrastructure is on the Internet. The Department of Trade and Industry quotes US banking experience to show the average cost of branch banking as being $1.07 per transaction; over the telephone as 52 cents; via a cash machine just 27 cents; but over the Internet a mere 1 cent. Egg is currently making major losses, but with those figures billions of pounds of the major banks' profits may soon flood Prudential's way. Barclays needs to earn more out of its network of branches and cash machines. So does the NatWest, which is why it has bid for Legal & General to make itself a 'bancassurer', selling more products from its branches. The one advantage the 'old' banks have got against the 'new' - including British Airways as well as Egg - is their physical networks. They cannot close many branches without losing customers, although by keeping branches open they run the risk of making themselves uncompetitive. Barclays, of course, has presented its charging proposal as a virtue. It talks not of new charges, but of 'clearer' charging information, pointing to the £300m earned by banks in hidden fees from charging customers for using other banks' cash machines. But Barclays is being disingenuous. Under the old system, a bank that operated a cash machine in the Link network earned about 30 pence for each transaction conducted on behalf of another bank. It was up to the customer's own bank to decide whether to pass that charge on. Many - including Nationwide, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Co-operative - did not. But if Barclays' approach is eventually successful, the customer's bank will have no choice. To be fair, Barclays has opted to end charges on its own customers for using other banks' machines, losing £6m in income annually. In March, when Barclays, Lloyds and Midland signed up with Link, we seemed to be on the verge of a single network of free-to-use machines. Now it seems as if the big banks want to bury Link, not to praise it. But Barclays' timing is inept. Former telecoms regulator Don Cruickshank is conducting a review of the banking market on behalf of chancellor Gordon Brown, looking for evidence of anti-competitive behaviour in the industry. He may feel it has just landed on his desk. An intriguing question now is how important cash machines will be as 'virtual banking' takes off. Certainly they are proving ever more popular - £10bn was withdrawn from Link machines in the first six months of this year, a 40% increase over last year even before three big banks entered membership. And cash machines themselves are being transformed. Cinema and theatre tickets can be bought on them in some countries, and they may become multimedia terminals for all sorts of purchases. In South Africa bank cash machines are used by the government to make welfare payments. Because many of the population are illiterate, fingerprint recognition is used in place of a PIN number. (It is allied to a pulse reader - when one poor man had his card stolen and his finger chopped off, he could at least console himself his dole was still there for him.) At Nationwide's headquarters in Swindon another hi-tech version is on trial, identifying customers from their irises. Smart cards - pieces of plastic like a credit card, but containing a micro-chip - are rapidly replacing magnetic strip cards, improving security. Some can be used as 'electronic purses' which store 'virtual money' to be spent at almost any business. These will be topped up electronically over the Internet through a PC with a smart-card reader more conveniently than via a cash machine. Most of us will still need to top up our purses at the hole in the wall when there is not enough in the purse to buy a meal or fill the petrol tank. But if the banks insist on charging us, it will be even more attractive to download extra money from our computer before we go out for the night. - Paul Gosling is author of 'Changing Money', which is published by Bowerdean.
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PUBG news and updates: November's Update #23 to bring new Skorpion pistol and changes to blue zone visibility
Genuinely useful side-arm coming to PUBG in Update #23