It seems almost irreverent to wrap up this blog from my hotel room here in Las Vegas, where on the promise of a fortune made from the turn of a card or the spin of a wheel, ATMs within the casinos ensure that the house gets to pull even more money from us!
It was only a few hours ago that I stopped in a casino for an old-fashioned shoeshine. Sitting in the chair above the crowds, I could watch all that went on. Everyone I saw walking up to an ATM had high expectations — only to be seen later in the day bemoaning the idiocy of it all.
While having my shoes shined, I picked up a copy of USA Today. Flipping quickly through the pages, I came upon the Life section and a Final Word editorial titled, “Happiness is overrated. You can bank on it.” In a Gallup customer satisfaction survey, the columnist was asked if he felt "special" when he left his bank. Which was just enough fuel splashed on a smoldering flame to ignite the passions of the jaded writer, who said, “No, I felt poor. It would take an interest rate over one percent to make me feel special.”
What followed in this editorial was the writer's observation that “I rarely go into the bank anymore, since everyone there is so happy to see me … it’s like "Cheers," but unfortunately, they don’t serve drinks.” Then he drops the big bomb: “I use the ATM as much as possible now. It doesn’t talk to me. It doesn’t tell me to have a nice day or ask if there’s anything else it can do for me. It hums and groans, spits out a few bills and is done with me. Neat and clean.”
Amid all the discussions about the explosive growth in ATM deployments and the extensive coverage this has produced, have we missed a vital ingredient of their popularity — the fact that we all like to use them? In fact, we prefer to do our financial transactions in silence. Nothing judgmental is proffered and no cute remarks are forthcoming — it’s all quite sterile, but we like it and we enjoy the freedom that this provides.
When ATMs first arrived in Australia, where I was living all those years ago, there was much prestige associated with being able to afford to have one installed — so much so that I recall seeing them floodlit in a high-profile area within a bank’s main lobby. And I got the sense that the branch manager wanted to observe everything first-hand, and was just waiting to rush out and greet every tech-savvy user who mastered the new proprietary interface. All the while, I quietly speculated, the branch manager fully expected it all to go away, at which point his branch would return to conducting business using tried and trusted methods developed over centuries of bank operations.
But no, after those first timid steps towards supporting a new automated channel, it was the branch managers who ended up being pushed to one side. Having our need for cash met 24/7 quickly educated us all — particularly those of us living on overdrafts — that it was indeed preferable to steer clear of the branch manager and interact with something that didn’t ask questions. “And just how many drinks do you intend to buy tonight?” would have sounded the death knell for all ATMs, but they couldn’t talk back then and we are all the happier for that early technology limitation.
And therein lies a critical element to the popularity of ATMs — Many of us simply like to use them!
As I walked back to my room through the casino, with its cacophony of sounds from jackpots won and slot machines telling us how much we could win, the ATMs continued to dispense cash to anyone with an ATM card.
I have to believe that it’s the very anonymity of this process of getting to our cash that continues to draw us to ATMs. It’s not just that they pass no judgment about whatever it is we want the cash for, nor remind us that we might be a lot better off if we left it in the account — even when it earns less than one percent of interest, if any. But it's also that the ATM is “neat and clean” as the columnist said, and in a very short time it is “done" with us.
Given the very impersonal way most of us now prefer to transact our business, we are finding that this suits us just fine — we can look forward to getting to our cash without ever having to think for one minute that in so doing, we are "special" in any way. As casinos never close in Las Vegas, I wonder if I should make one more pass by the ATM; after all it doesn’t care what I do with my money!