Like everyone else with an interest in the ATM marketplace — from the ATMs themselves on through to the servers that support them — I remain a firm believer that cash will long be a necessity for many of us.
However, every once in a while, circumstances arise when you seriously begin to question the longevity of the status quo. Is access to cash really all that important?
One new data point on this subject surfaced only this week — the impact of the Olympic Games on London ATMs! They have run out of money! That's right; the expected demand from tourists arriving in London has already exceeded the capacity of many of the city's ATMs.
According to a report in the July 19 edition of USA Today headlined, "Olympic tourists warned about cash squeeze," it seems that "lines are getting longer at ATMs, visitors are in sticker shock over British prices (and so need more cash), and some befuddled tourists are wondering what currency to use."
It seems that Britain "had a test run last month when some cash machines in the city ran dry over a four-day holiday … dozens of ATMs across London ran out of cash as hundreds of thousands descended on the city for the event."
The U.K.'s Payment Council offered a response that was both an admission and a warning: Don't wait until you get to London. The advice? "Withdraw cash before (you) get to London and have backup plans in case the credit cards are rejected or local ATMs run dry." In other words, don't leave home without it — cash, that is.
ATM operations across London is a very mature business and Londoners' needs for cash are well understood. There's the football match that may attract a larger than normal crowd to Chelsea from the Midlands, just as a rugby game at Twickenham may draw in more of the Welsh community than otherwise might be found walking around London. But with the imminent start of the Olympic Games, a whole raft of variables is being thrown into the mix for the first time.
There's really no true measure as to what to expect when something as extraordinary as the Olympics has to be factored into the mix. And among the key EFT network operators now reacting to the fallout from ATMs with no cash has to be VocaLink, the preeminent player in this marketplace.
Only a short time ago, I wrote in a piece for an HP user community magazine of how VocaLink processes more than 9 billion transactions annually, powers the world's busiest ATM network, connects more than 63,000 ATMs and supports more than 130 million card accounts. On a peak day the payment platform processes more than 90 million transactions!
Those numbers must have surely gone up since I last looked at the data, but the point remains, if anyone knows what will be needed to keep the ATM network supplying cash to all attending the Olympic Games, it will be VocaLink. And VocaLink depends on a partnership between HP and ESQ to give them the complete picture of all that is happening on the network.
According to a report I received late last year from HP, "ESQ and HP worked jointly on adding the various performance agents including HP Operations Agents, the HP Operations Performance Agents, and the ESQ Transaction Analyzer into the tools on the NonStop estate to achieve the integration with Sun Solaris, ProLiant Windows and Cisco Networking as well as a plethora of ATM devices in the Transaction Switching part of VocaLink's business." And I have to believe that from what they have now witnessed, corrective steps have already been taken.
Even as I write this post, I expect to read later of how these current troubles will be explained as situational exposures discovered during early trials in the run-up to the Olympics. But the bigger picture here is that, yes, when any city experiences a flood of tourists there will be a need for cash, and given the diversity of the influx of visitors, there's little likelihood that everyone will be carrying the requisite debit and credit cards we normally expect tourists to carry.
Olympic Games, football, rugby and cricket world cups, Formula One Grand Prix — they all attract enormous crowds for the country hosting the event. Countries continue to court promoters simply because of the economic impact involved — sometimes climbing into the billions of dollars. Without the humble ATM, our ability to step off a plane, hail a taxi, unpack at a hotel and take in the sights would be much more limited.
Yes, access to cash is just that important, and as much as we like to speculate about what is just around the corner, this need for cash provides all the insight we need into just why the ATM marketplace remains as healthy as it does, and that, for the foreseeable future, no matter the occasion, it's where we head for the cash we just have to have.