It's Sunday afternoon and on a whim you decide to see and movie and have dinner out. But wait - you forgot to pick up cash at the bank on Friday. No problem - today. Just head over to the ATM machine on the corner and grab some cash.
Not so very many years ago the scene would have played out differently. You might have scrambled to find a grocery store or gas station that would cash a personal check, or borrowed money from a friend, or just decided that it was too much of a hassle, and stayed home.
This summer we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the ATM machine. While the day passed unremarked by almost everyone on the planet, it was a day that changed the way we think about cash.
The first automated teller machine, or ATM, opened in England in 1967 at a branch of Barclays Bank in Enfield, North London. The first withdrawal is credited to an English television actor, Reg Varney, star of a British sitcom, "On the Buses." At the time, the machines only dispensed 10 pound notes. Today there are over 1.5 million ATMs in service throughout the world, with about 400,000 located in the United States. According to Retail Banking Research, about 165 million withdrawals are made each day.
Here in New Jersey, PNC Bank alone has over 1,100 machines in a variety of locations, not only its branch sites, but at grocery and convenience stores, says Donna Hopkins, branch manager of the Lawrenceville PNC branch, and a PNC assistant vice president.
"ATMs help us provide for the needs of our customers. They have certainly made banking easier for the consumer," says Hopkins, who has been with PNC Bank for her entire career. "The bank has changed names a few times, but I've never changed banks," she says. Hopkins, who is a New Jersey native, has lived for over 20 years in Hamilton Square. She is currently completing her bachelor's degree in business management from Phoenix University .
For Hopkins, banking was the perfect career, she says, because it has given her the "perfect mix" of working with finances and working with people.
While some people have seen the advent of the ATM as heralding the end of customer service, Hopkins views it differently. Automating the routine process of handing out money gives bankers more time to spend helping customers in other, more important areas, of their financial lives.
But, as with most things in life, there are downsides to the ATM. Savvy users should be aware of a few things, Hopkins advises:
Watch those fees. Different banks vary widely on the amount and types of fees they charge for ATM use, and many banks have varying fees depending on the type of account that a customer has. Make sure you know what fees you are paying when you use an ATM machine.
When the first ATM machines appeared, banks wanted to encourage their use, and many banks did not charge for their use. That soon changed, and a variety of fees were charged. The surcharge fee paid by consumers using an ATM that does not belong to their bank increased from zero in 1996 to an average of roughly $1.50 in 2003, and $2.50 - or more - is not uncommon in spots far away from Main Street, at airports and in amusement parks, for example.
Consumers, often the same consumers who unthinkingly fork over $2 for a pint of bottled water, $60,000 for a car, and $2 million for a house with three more bedrooms than they have children, have been consistently outraged by these fees. "Paying to have access to my own money!" they tend to exclaim, forgetting to factor in the convenience factor.
In response, many banks are reducing, simplifying, or just getting rid of their ATM fees. "We listened to the needs of our clients," says Hopkins. PNC has dropped most of its ATM fees, and with some accounts offers free, worldwide ATM usage.
Beware of ATM fraud. Identity theft is a fact of life. Keeping your PIN (Personal Identification Number) secure is your best protection against theft. This is not hard to do, says Hopkins. Make sure that the person standing behind you in line cannot see you enter your PIN. "It's part of our routine opening procedures to examine our ATMs every day to make sure they are secure," she says.
Also, she recommends, call to report a lost card immediately. "Most of the time the card turns up lost in the car seat, but we'd rather have you report it immediately and not take a chance."
ATM vs. debit card. There is more than one type of ATM card available, and it can be confusing to know exactly what type of card you have. A traditional ATM card can only be used at an ATM machine. It cannot be used to purchase products.
A debit card, on the other hand, can be used to make purchases at any establishment or online website that accepts a Visa card, says Hopkins. It works pretty much like a credit card, but it is not like a credit card. The money is taken directly from your bank account at the time the purchase is made, rather than being billed at a later date.
Latest developments. A new type of ATM is now available in England. The MAX BOX is a multi-function, two-screen terminal that combines retail services with ATM functions. Developed by Felix Group, a British company, some of the services available include instant printing of digital photos, ordering flowers for next-day delivery, downloading mobile ringtones, and other mobile content, and even a digital jukebox with over 3 million digital tracks available for download. And of course, it also has the ability to run third-party advertising and sales promotions.
It is not clear when the new kiosks will arrive in the United States, but we can be sure that if there is a profit to be made, they will be appearing as soon as possible.