The technology came to the national territory in September of 1985, according to an article by ‘dinheiro vivo’ with the creation of the Multibanco network by SIBS, and despite the country having been one of the last in Europe to jump aboard the ship, it was here where a services ecosystem was developed that’s become among the most advanced today.

Introducing a bank card into any Multibanco machine accesses over 60 possible operations, from taking out cash to paying services, taxes, not to forget charging mobile plans or even transport passes.

“Many of these operations were, at the time of their introduction, absolutely innovative on a global level,” Teresa Mesquita said. The SIBS product manager attributes the network’s creation to a demand in the 80s for more efficiency between bank and client.

This transformation was, in truth, the first of various chapters in the sector’s digital transition: first with ATMs, later with home banking, now with mobile apps. “There haven’t been any other cases in the world where digitalisation has happened faster,” the company representative added.

Currently, over 5 million people in Portugal use MBway, the service that brought ATMs and several other services onto the phone. “We can connect the ATM to the phone and take money from the machine using a code we generate on MBway,” Teresa Mesquita explained.

Like all other inventions, the introduction of ATMs and the digital revolution that followed had an impact on the way people used banking services. If 40 years ago, before the birth of Multibanco, one needed to go to the bank to take out money or make a transfer, all that can now be done at an ATM, on a computer or on the phone.

The consequences of these changes are visible in the sharp fall of the number of physical bank locations. Statistics from the Bank of Portugal show that, between 2010 and 2021, bank attendance desk usage fell by 50%, from around 7000 to about 3500. According to Pordata, in the same period the Multibanco network lost 12.8% of its machines – from 14,318 to 12,486 – a reduction that could be related to the closure of physical bank locations, where ATMs can generally be found too.

Even then, according to Eurostat, Portugal is the 2nd Eurozone country with the most ATMs per inhabitant, only behind Austria. “The country has 1.4 ATMs for every 1000 inhabitants, while the European average is 0.67. It’s an interesting number,” Teresa Mesquita commented.

On par with the capillarity of ATMs in the country, the volume of annual operations reflects the importance of these machines in the population’s day-to-day. Pordata’s data compilation shows that, in 2021, more than 64 million transactions were made through the Multibanco network, to which 343 million cash withdrawals are added. Translated into euros, this means 26.4 billion euros were withdrawn from these ATMs and 5.9 million euros worth of services payments are made.

The banking sector nowadays has fewer desks, a lesser number of ATMs and a growing use of digital services. According to the Portuguese Banks Association (APB), who gathers 24 entities responsible for 90% of the system, the reliance on homebanking solutions has in fact come to increasing the number of transactions and the value of operations.

The latest data was made available by the APB show that, between 2018 and 2021, the number and value of these increased by 11,5% and 9.7%, respectively. The number of users (referring only to the 13 associates of the APB) grew 10.3% in 2021 compared to last year, which “reflects the growing userbase of the digital bank, a tendency that’s known a greater dynamism for it after the pandemic.

Portugal is frequently pointed to as a place to conduct market tests, not only for its size but because the Portuguese have an adeptness with technology. With Multibanco, it isn’t difficult. “We launched the network similarly in Romania and we have an ATM network in Poland. This system is part of our way to internationalising,” Teresa Mesquita elaborated.

The SIBS also assured technological support to ATMs in Angola, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Timor, but in all geographies where the national enterprise has a presence in the least available services in Portugal, who continues to be the market with the most complete and diverse ecosystem in the world.