By Robert McGarvey
I come not to bury the ATM but to praise its new powers.
Forgive me for borrowing from Shakespeare’s Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, but it’s what popped into my mind recently as I heard many futurists predicting the end of the ATM.
It just isn’t happening. At least not soon.
It certainly isn’t happening in this year, the 50th anniversary of ATMs, devices said to have started at a Barclays in London in 1967.
What will happen instead is that the ATM will get more powerful—we’ll use it to do more. A lot more. Details follow.
First, understand: the ATM Industry Association estimates the number of U.S. ATMs to be between 475,000 and 500,000.
And they are staying busy. “In the month of March, PNC dispensed more cash from ATMs than we have in the history of our ATM network,” Ken Justice, head of the bank’s ATM operations, told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in a birthday story about ATMs. “Cash demand is still as high as it has ever been.”
Justice is not exactly right about that. According to the most recent Federal Reserve Payments Study, noncash payments have been growing fast: “Since 2000, both the number and value of noncash payments have exhibited significant growth. By number, noncash payments grew from 72.4 billion payments in 2000 to 144.1 billion in 2015, for a growth rate of 4.7 percent per year. By value, noncash payments grew from $75.87 trillion in 2000 to $177.85 trillion in 2015 (both in 2015 dollars), for a real growth rate of 5.8 percent per year.”
Furthermore, a Gallup Poll found that 62% of respondents predict the death of cash in our lifetimes.
But, fast as noncash payments have grown, it is premature to bury cash or ATMs. According to Gallup, 54% of respondents like carrying cash all the time, and 42% say they are not comfortable without cash on hand.
Most of us still like paying with cash at least some of the time, in some places. That’s a fact.
Where do we get cash? For many of us the convenient answer remains the ATM and, personally, I call on one at least once weekly.
The frequency of visits just may go up, as ATMs offer more features to entice us. Karen Kaukol, a vice president at Entrust Datacard, said she expected ATMs soon to offer “bill pay, statement printing, and instantly replacing lost or stolen payment cards. The idea is to shift more transactional bank services to the ATM so that tellers can focus on higher-value customer engagements.”
For instance? Kaukol elaborated with some specifics: “U.S. Bank customers can make donations to the American Red Cross from an ATM and Wells Fargo customers can purchase stamps, print statements, or pay a credit card bill. In the future, we can expect to see additional ATM features such as the ability to make transfers to friends or open an account.”
ATMs also offer contactless payments, at least at some banks, and there are ever-louder talks that we will soon see ATMs that allow biometric log-in—no card or smartphone needed. Just sign in with a fingerprint or maybe a retinal scan.
Furthermore, many institutions are now lifting the upward limit on cash withdrawals to as much as $4,000.
The message for credit union leaders is twofold. For one, assume you will have ATMs in your arsenal for many years to come. Generations of consumers have grown comfortable using them, and they will continue to use them for some years. Sure, the day is coming when this is a cashless society, but that day isn’t coming soon.
Secondly, the big banks are charging forward with programs to build more features into ATMs, and you should do likewise.
Which features? Run pilots or conduct small tests. Discover what your members want to use, and investigate how they will use it.
But know that the ATM as a device for little more than getting cash and checking balances is fast coming to an end.
We are now entering the era of the smart ATM, and that is likely adding years to its role in our lives.