The ATM is dead ... long live the ATM!
Bethan Cowper, Associate Vice President of Global Marketing, Compass Plus
It has been well documented that this year is 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 check. In the U.K. for example, banks collectively vowed to replace checks with a viable alternative by October 2018, a pledge that has since been scrapped.
Paper bank notes are in transition to polymer, that durable and longer-lasting material; and bank branches — while there have been closures — are far from dead.
Established banks claim that they will always offer face-to-face banking and that they are looking to optimize branches rather than remove them completely. ATMs and kiosks are arguably the best tool to aid this transformation.
The amazing thing about the ATM is that you can find one literally anywhere; from the McMurdo station in Antarctica, to Ayres Rock (aka Uluru) in Australia. They also take many forms. For instance, in Croatia there is an R2D2-shape Star Wars ATM.
Automated teller machines also provide some unexpected services — for example, cupcake ATMs in Atlanta and other U.S. cities; gold-to-go ATMs in Las Vegas and Dubai; and Bitcoin ATMs at locations from the U.K. to Bali. Until 2011, ATMs in Vatican City even spoke Latin.
While these are extreme examples, it is the existence of the extreme that demonstrates the ATM's 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 worldwide predictions is unwise. Yes, the Nordics are headed towards a cashless society, but this is not something most of the rest of the world can claim. Card use is gaining traction in the Middle East, but this is generally to go to an ATM and withdraw funds to pay for cash-on-delivery purchases made online.
It is important to note that these "death row" machines and the services they provide evolve, too. ATMs are becoming contactless, offering video conferencing capabilities, changing shape and functionality, offering 60 percent or more of the personal banking services provided by a branch teller — a number that is predicted to grow to anywhere between 90 to 99 percent within the next one to two years, depending on the source.
Let us therefore not predict the death of the ATM, but rather, marvel at its technological advancements. I'm confident that we will still be using ATMs in 50 years' time, although I'm sure they will be very different machines.