The ATM is dead – long live the ATM!

By Bethan Cowper | 9 January 2018

It has been well-documented that last year was the 50th anniversary of the first ATM installation in London. Tabloid newspapers across the world have speculated over the future of this self-service device, debating everything from integration with AI and robotics down to whether there really is a long-term future for these machines in our allegedly imminent cashless society. 

To be frank, as an industry we have not fared well in our ability to predict the end of financial products and services, such as the death of cash or the bank branch; we haven’t even been able to “kill” off the cheque. In the UK for example, banks collectively vowed to replace cheques with a “viable alternative” by October 2018, a pledge which has since been scrapped; paper notes are in transistion to become polymer, that durable and longer-lasting material; and bank branches, while there have been closures, they are far from “dead”, with established banks claiming that they will always offer face-to-face banking and are looking to optimise branches rather than remove them completely. ATMs and their cousins, kiosks, are arguably the best tool to aid this transformation.

The amazing thing about the ATM is that you can find them literally anywhere; from the McMurdo station in Antartica, to Ayres Rock (Uluru) in Australia. They also take many forms, in Croatia there is an R2D2 shaped Star Wars ATM, and some provide unexpected services, for example the cupcake ATM in Atlanta, US, gold-to-go ATMs in Las Vegas and Dubai, and Bitcoin ATMs at locations from the UK to Bali. Up until 2011, ATMs in the Vatican City spoke Latin. While these are extreme examples, it is the existence of the extreme that demonstrates their capability for evolution.

As much as we try to make it work, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the financial services market. We don’t have far to look to see the massive differences in the adoption of payment methods, tools, channels and services from region to region and country to country. To make world-wide predictions is unwise: yes, the Nordics are headed towards a cashless society, but this is not something the majority of the rest of the globe can claim. Card use is gaining traction in the Middle East, but this is generally to go to an ATM and withdraw cash for online shopping cash-on-delivery purchases.

It is important to note that these death row products and services evolve too. ATMs are becoming contactless, offering video conferencing capabilities, changing shape and functionality, offering up to 60 per cent of the services a branch teller can – a number that is predicted to grow to anywhere between 90-99 per cent in the next 1-2 years, depending on the source. Let us therefore not predict death, but marvel at how we evolve. I’m confident that we will still be using ATMs in 50 years’ time, although I’m sure they will be very different machines.

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