It’s a special time for the ATM industry right now, as this week marks the 50th anniversary of the world’s first-ever commercial ATM going into operation.
Times have changed a lot since the first-ever device was installed at a branch of Barclays in the London district of Enfield on June 27th 1967, but one thing that’s remained constant is that people need quick and easy access to cash wherever they are. In fact, even with the introduction of a whole range of new payment technologies, from debit cards to mobile NFC solutions, the humble ATM has gone from strength to strength.
Recent forecasts from Retail Banking Research highlight that over 3.1 million ATMs are currently installed around the globe. Estimates are that this number will reach four million by 2021. This further emphasizes the need for the ATM now and in the future as a secure, trusted and reliable self-service channel for consumers.
But where will the technology be in ten, 20 or even 50 years from now? In a changing world, it’s always hard to forecast what the future will hold, but while nothing in life is certain, the future for the ATM looks bright.
Don’t think cash is going away
Some naysayers would have you believe the days of the ATM are numbered as the use of cash declines around the world. But, in fact, actual trends tell a very different story.
In a recent speech marking the ATM’s anniversary, Bank of England chief cashier Victoria Cleland said: “Many people are surprised to learn that demand for cash continues to grow … The vast majority of the world is seeing an increase – and countries including the US, Canada, Australia, and the Euro Area are all experiencing year-on-year growth in the five to ten percent range; some countries are well in excess of this.”
Even in Sweden, which has been touted as a world-leader in the drive to a cashless society, cash still accounts for around 15 percent of sales. Ms Cleland said cash is quicker than many alternatives, is universally accepted, offers immediate certainty that a transaction has taken place, and is vital in supporting financial inclusion.
None of this is likely to change in the immediate future, which means cash’s place at the payments table is assured for years to come.
Beyond cards and PINs
It’s clear that the ATM’s function as a cash dispenser will remain crucial. But as technology moves on in other parts of the world, so must ATM solutions. Already, the latest devices take inspiration from gadgets such as tablets and smartphones, with large, colorful multi-touch screens and intuitive controls such as pinch-to-zoom and swiping through options menus.
In the future, we can expect ATMs to continue making this intuitive interface a priority, and also embrace other technology such as biometrics. The quality of sensors such as fingerprint and iris scanners has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, so it could be the case that sooner rather than later, you’ll be able to get cash out of an ATM without the need to insert a card or enter a PIN code.
Maybe in the future, other solutions as yet not thought of will also be implemented. A recent survey of consumers in the UK by Nationwide, for instance, found 23 percent believe they’ll have microchip implants in their hands linked to their bank accounts by 2037 – and if so, who’s to say you won’t be able to interact with an ATM with just a wave of your hand?
The ‘bank in a box’
The other big trend for the ATM sector goes far beyond cash however, and will see more and more key banking functions brought into the devices in the coming years – essentially creating a ‘bank in a box’ that can handle all the functionalities you’d expect from a full branch, thanks to tools like video tellers. Already, NCR research suggests 80 percent of transactions typically completed inside a physical branch can be achieved through a video-equipped ATM.
Even if cash use does decline, the potential capabilities of the ATM are nearly limitless if providers are prepared to reinvent them to meet the evolving needs of their users. Services such as cinema and concert ticket purchases, bill payments, and mobile phone top-ups that are already in use may just be the tip of the iceberg as operators look to turn the ATM into a one-stop shop for all a person’s financial needs.
With consumers around the world becoming more comfortable with automation and self-service in all aspects of their lives, the ATM is perfectly positioned to tap into changing habits and give people the high-quality experience they expect – as long as operators remain flexible and responsive to people’s needs. But one thing’s for sure – it will be fascinating to see what the next 50 years holds for the technology.