NORTHERN Ireland has a higher reliance on cash than any other UK region, new figures from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) show.
It comes as the regulator has set out plans to help maintain reasonable access to cash for people and businesses across the UK.
As scores of banks shut every month, difficulties continue over accessing free ATMs, and 3.1 million UK adults admit they use mostly cash to pay for their bills and everyday items, concerns have been raised that "cash deserts" could be created.
The report shows that in Northern Ireland, 13% of the adults say they use cash to pay for everything or most things, including bills (that compares to just 5% in both England and Wales, and 7% in Scotland).
Under FCA's latest proposals, it says designated banks and building societies will need to assess gaps in access to cash.
The data shows that in the two years to the first quarter of this year, 1,391 bank and building society branches closed across the UK, as did 2,176 free-to-use ATMs.
The report shows that Northern Ireland currently has 139 bricks and mortar banks and building societies providing access to cash, as well as 464 post offices and 13 mobile banks.
The region also has 1,417 free-to-use ATMs and 325 where the customer must pay to withdraw, as well as 13,953 locations which will offer cashback.
The report points to LINK having recommended five banking hubs in Northern Ireland at Kilkeel, Newcastle, Comber, Warrenpoint, Portrush.
The first of these has just opened in Kilkeel offering a counter service operated by the Post Office, where customers of all major banks can carry out regular cash transactions.
The hub will also offer a "community banker" service every Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on a rotational basis provided by Barclays, Ulster Bank, Santander, Bank of Ireland and Danske Bank.
The report shows that as of the first quarter of this year, 95.1% of the UK population are within one mile of a free-to-use cash withdrawal point such as cash machines or Post Office branches (in Northern Ireland it's 83.3%) while 99.7% in the UK (99.1% in NI) are within three miles.
Sheldon Mills, executive director of consumers and competition at the FCA said: "We know that, while there is an increasing shift to digital payments, over three million consumers still rely on cash – particularly people who may be vulnerable – as well as many small businesses. It’s important that we support consumers impacted by recent innovations.
"Our proposals set out how banks and building societies will need to assess and plug gaps in local cash provision. This will help manage the pace of change and ensure that people can continue to access cash if they need it."
Under the proposals, designated firms will be required to:
- Undertake cash access assessments when changes are being made to cash access services, to understand whether additional services are required to meet local gaps.
- Respond to requests from local residents, community organisations and representatives to consider, assess and plug gaps.
- Deliver reasonable additional cash services to fill gaps in provision where assessments show that there is or will be a significant local gap.
- Ensure they do not close cash facilities, including bank branches, until any additional cash services identified are available.