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Access your account with your smartphone using a cardless ATM

Use your phone to withdraw cash from ATMs when you don't have your debit card.

Some banks have found a way to make accessing your cash even easier. With secure apps installed on your mobile phone, you can access your digital wallet to withdraw the money from a cardless ATM without using your physical debit card. Your phone is already at your fingertips – now your cash will be too.

As of September 2023, cardless ATMs are not yet widely available in Canada. However, there is general interest in bringing this technology to Canada. Much of the information in this article has been based on how the technology was implemented in the US.

What is a cardless ATM and how does it work?

Cardless cash works by providing you with a unique code that you enter into an ATM to withdraw cash when you don’t have your card. This is beneficial if you’re on a run, at the beach, at an amusement park or anywhere else you don’t want to carry a card. You can even share your code with friends or family members so they can withdraw money when you’re not there.

An example of the most similar technology currently available in Canada is the RBC NFC-enabled ATM machines, which allow customers to withdraw cash by tapping their bank card at the ATM rather than inserting it into the machine. This technology in Canada still requires a card and does not support Apple Pay or Google Pay.

Cardless app-generated codes vs. near-field communication

There are 2 ways your phone may connect with a cardless ATM: through app-generated codes or near-field communication (NFC).
App-generated codes are typically QR codes, although they can be a series of numbers. If your ATM uses this type of technology, you request a withdraw in your mobile app and then scan or enter the code once you get to the ATM. Then, the ATM verifies your identity and authenticates your transaction.

Some ATMs use NFC to conduct cardless transactions. With this type of cardless ATM, you tap your phone against the ATM’s contactless symbol and your phone’s digital wallet pulls up. From there, you select which card you want to use from your wallet and enter your PIN. Then, the ATM authenticates your transaction.

Common questions about cardless ATMs

How do banks ensure cardless cash transactions are secure?

Generally, cardless ATM withdrawals can be even more secure than using a card. That’s because you not only have to enter a PIN number like you normally would with a card, but the app on your phone will usually require additional security measures for access, like a fingerprint scan.

It’s a good idea to double check your security settings. Test the relevant app and check what security measures are in place to ensure that no one else can use the app to gain access to your account.

How easy is it to use the app?

It is hard to beat the ease of sliding a card into a machine, entering a code and pulling out your cash. However, the app is easy in it’s own way because you don’t have to rummage through a stuffed wallet to find your card. Although not yet enabled for cardless ATM transactions, you can compare traditional mobile banking apps here.

How extensive is the ATM network?

You’ll have to check with your bank to see which of their ATMs offer this technology. As this technology gets rolled out across Canada, more and more older ATM machines will be replaced with ones that are NFC (near field communication)-enabled. Since this app requires some pre-planning, you don’t want to get your code and then have no ATM at which to use it.

Does your device work with the app?

This is something you’ll have to verify based on your phone type and software. You’re probably going to be ok if you have the latest software downloaded on a relatively new phone. If you’re unsure how to check your compatibility, you can always visit your cell phone provider.

Are there sharing options?

There will usually be an option for someone to pick up the cash on your behalf. In some cases, you just need to provide the app with the appropriate person’s mobile phone number.

Are there limits on cardless cash withdrawals?

You may be limited to the amount of money you can withdraw daily from your account.

Is a time limit applied?

Banks may impose a time limit as an added security measure. You’ll have to check for your own transactions how long the code is valid for after receiving it. Some banks only keep the code valid for 30 minutes.

What are the benefits of using cardless cash?

  • The convenience of traveling light. With cardless cash, you have the ability to travel light when the occasion calls for it.
  • In cases of emergencies. You can continue to access your cash even if you’ve left your wallet at home.
  • You can share it with your trusted family and friends. This makes it easier to give family members limited access to the account when they need it. Rather than paying for extra debit cards or worrying about how much they withdraw, you can control their spending by using the app.
  • No additional costs for using it. The app works the same as a debit card when withdrawing money. As long as you’re using ATMs in your bank’s network, you should not be charged any additional fees.
  • Increased security. In some ways, the app provides more security as the code is for one use only, rather than a debit card which prompts you for the same code each time you use it.

What are the drawbacks of using cardless cash?

  • Only at select banks. Right now, only select banks in the US offer this feature with their accounts. We are waiting for this technology to launch Canada-wide.
  • Relies on ATM’s network. If the ATM network is down, you will not be able to use the code to withdraw money until it is up and running again.
  • Cardless ATM fraud. If someone gets a hold of your bank’s login credentials and PIN, they can connect your account to their phone and withdraw money without needing your physical debit card.

Security tips when using cardless cash

With any product or device that provides access to your money, either on or offline, you need to be careful about its security. To best protect your money when using cardless cash, avoid the following:

    • Protect your online banking details.

Never share the password to your online bank account. With the password, people could gain access to your cardless cash details and make withdrawals without your consent.

    • Monitor suspicious transactions on your account.

Although banks take precautions to protect your information, there is always the possibility of a hack. If you notice unauthorized withdrawals from your account using cardless cash, notify the bank immediately.

Bottom line

While the technology exists to be able to withdraw money from an ATM without using a debit card, it isn’t widely available in Canada just yet. While using your smart phone for ATM withdrawals comes with greater convenience and ease-of-use, there are still legitimate limitations and security issues to watch out for.

Interested in looking into a bank account with a traditional debit card? Check out our guide here.

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Written by

Chelsey Hurst

Chelsey Hurst is an associate editor at Finder. She loves empowering people to avoid financial pitfalls and make better decisions with their money. Chelsey has a Bachelor of Science from Redeemer University, a Master of Science from McMaster University, and has won multiple awards for research communication. In her spare time, Chelsey enjoys cooking and taking long walks in nature. See full profile

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