It's been a week since Hurricane Katrina swept through the U.S. Gulf Coast, and still most ATM companies and financial institutions are working to assess damage and loss. As late as Sept. 7, companies in Mississippi and Louisiana were still focusing on their most fundamental concerns - reaching employees and their families.
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A sea of downed phone and utility lines have made communication difficult, and the flooding that has consumed most of New Orleans has forced companies with operations in the city to accept that it could be months before they truly know what they have lost.
Industry insiders like Doug Falcone, chief executive of Whippany, N.J.-based independent sales organization Access to Money, agree that the economical, structural and emotional devastation caused by Katrina will be far-reaching and long-lasting, but that beneath the shroud of darkness is a ray of optimism and hope.
The industry reaches out
Companies throughout the country have been reaching out to offer support. From offerings of office space and equipment to donations of money, supplies and clothing, the industry was quick to offer support. The ATM Industry Association has set up a fund for ATM companies affected by the hurricane; Hudson, N.H.-based Dover Electronics announced the establishment of a Triton employee relief fund earlier this week; and Chantilly, Va.-based Universal Debit & Credit Corp. is driving water and other supplies to the families affected by the hurricane in Long Beach, Miss. (See Blog.)
Other companies, like Houston-based Cardtronics LP and Greenwood Village, Colo.-based First Data Corp., are raising money to help victims and families.
"Everybody seems to be working so well together," said Arthur McMahan, chief operating officer of Carrollton, Texas-based Mobile Express Capital Corp. "Even competing businesses are working hand-in-hand to try to help each other out."
That sentiment has been shared by those most affected by Katrina, including Ron Schuldt, president of New Orleans-based processor Columbus Data Services, and Brian Kett, president of Long Beach, Miss.-based Triton Systems. "We have received an outpouring of support from friends of Triton worldwide, and we very much appreciate your thoughts and prayers," wrote Kett in an e-mail Sept. 2.
In the wake of Katrina's aftermath, companies like CDS, Triton and New Orleans-based Innovus Inc./Momentum Cash Systems LLC, have been optimistic about their operations.
CDS and Innovus reported no disruption (Read also, Breaking: Triton issues statement after Katrina ravages Gulf states) in processing and service, and Triton has reported that its two Long Beach facilities appear to be in "very good shape."
Tommy Glen, president of Jackson, Miss.-based NetBank Payment Systems said in a Sept. 6 e-mail that "Hurricane Katrina caused very little change in our day-to-day operations at Netbank Payment Systems. Thanks to our team of dedicated associates, we have been up and running ever since hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast."
The economic quake is hard to measure
But the magnitude of devastation will have economic impacts for several months and years to come, said Sam Ditzion, president and CEO of Boston-based Tremont Capital Group.
Falcone agreed. "When you stop to think about the employees and what they're going to do, even if the buildings are still standing, you realize that it could be really hard for some of these businesses," he said. "You have some guys who had their whole portfolios down there who have lost everything."
When you stop to think about the employees and what they're going to do, even if the buildings are still standing, you realize that it could be really hard for some of these businesses. You have some guys who had their whole portfolios down there who have lost everything.
-- Doug Falcone,
None of the 80 ATMs Access to Money processes transaction for in the affected areas are operating, Falcone said. Access to Money itself owns and operates eight ATMs in New Orleans. The company is assuming at least four of those eight are completely lost.
"We're assuming that about half of them are under water, and, in my opinion, those are probably safer because they can't be broken into. The other ones, we're just assuming they're gone or empty."
Falcone expects his company's loss to be between $120,000 and $140,000. "And we're a lot better off than most."
Gary Walston, senior vice president of Innovus, told ATMmarketplace Sept. 6 that only about 5 percent of the 2,500 ATMs Innovus owns and operates have been affected by hurricane-related flooding and outages.
"I don't know how much we've lost, but in terms of the ATMs we own, it won't have a significant impact on our business," he said. "We just don't have any information yet. We are trying to get back into the area. And right now, basically, we're just trying to figure out what we need to do in terms of personnel."
Michael Clinard, COO of Cardtronics, which operates about 400 ATMs in the Gulf Coast region, said approximately 275 Cardtronics ATMs are down.
"We don't know if those ATMs have been affected by flooding and are under water, or if they've been affected by downed phone lines or power lines or a combination of both," Clinard said. "At this point, we're not sure."
Other companies directly affected by Katrina include ATM Worldwide LLC and ATMs of South, which are both based in Louisiana. Trey Prats, president of ATM Worldwide, said in a Sept. 7 e-mailed response that his company is working to relocate its office and continue operation. "I would love to tell you all that has happened," he wrote. "ATM Worldwide was right in the middle of all of it. I just don't have time right now."
ATMmarketplace has not been able to reach ATMs of the South.
"Everyone is trying to keep as much of an optimistic spin on things and hope for the best, but you know it's going to be hard for a lot of these companies," Falcone said.
And still, many of those companies will be better off than financial institutions, which most experts say will have more obstacles to overcome in recovery. Companies like North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold Inc. are on standby, waiting until they get the green light for service, said Diebold media relations manager Carrie Kandes.
Diebold has 180 associates in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, Kandes said.
FIs and Katrina
Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. spokesman David Barr said last week that 152 FIs and approximately 1,400 branches are located in the 49 counties now declared federal disaster areas. However, he added, FDIC doesn't know how many FI-operated ATMs in those areas have been impacted. And a spokesman for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, which covers the states affected by Katrina, said the Fed isn't sure either.
Barr also said it was "too early to have any estimates of the financial loss to banks."
"Many financial institutions are implementing contingency plans involving a variety of actions that will help the people of the Gulf Coast," U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow said.
Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia Corp. has 20 ATMs in Mississippi and 206 in Alabama. Of those, three ATMs are still not operating in Alabama and 10 are out of order in Mississippi. The bank has no retail presence in Louisiana.
"We are working to get those ATMs up and running as soon as possible," said Evalyn Mitchell, a corporate communications manager at Wachovia. She added that the FI has yet to determine if the 13 ATMs that are out of operation will need to be replaced.
Mitchell said the bank has not calculated its financial loss. "At this point, our primary focus is the safety of our employees, their families and our customers."
New York-based J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. has 148 ATMs and 56 branches in New Orleans, all of which are not operating, spokesperson Calmetta Coleman said. Coleman also said she could not disclose how much cash is typically kept in Chase ATMs and could, therefore, not speculate about the bank's losses.
"We can't get in there so we really don't know if machines are ruined, the power is just out or the phone line to them isn't working," Coleman said.
Even banks that were not directly affected by the disaster are coping with a number of problems.
Ross Little Jr., spokesman for Lafayette, La.-based Teche Federal Bank, said, "We are trying to find ways to serve those affected by this without running into problems ourselves. We really are trying to figure out how we can bend over backwards to be more lenient with customers who are in such dire straits. What it will probably come down to is we are going to have to take a little bit more risk, and if we lose some money so be it."