Smartphone, Meet the ATM

For all the focus on banking technologies, there’s one tool that gets virtually no attention, even though it’s indispensable. In fact, most of us still turn to it more often than we do to the branch, the website, or mobile apps. Can you even think what it is?

The ATM.


Yes, the automated teller machine, the banking-without-a-bank resource that’s been around since the ’60s. It’s allowed consumers of every stripe to perform routine functions (withdrawals, deposits, transfers) inside grocery stores, malls, casinos and a host of other locations. In some ways, even as it took some of the personalization out, it represented the first true advance in innovation and convenience.

Ironically, innovation is not a term we associate with it now. In some ways, the ATM seems a little like the TV set. The screen has gotten sharper, there’s more functionality and greater security, but it’s basically a big, reliable block of hardware that we use the same way we always have, even while the environment around it has undergone a radical transformation. To the naked eye, at least, it hasn’t evolved much in decades.

Of course, that’s not true, and it’s about to become even less so. According to a new report released this week by the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA), the global trade group with 1,300 members in 50 countries, it could be the next market to watch for real innovation. There’s one area in particular that should be really interesting: mobile.

The international survey released this week by the ATMIA forecasts that mobile or ‘contactless’ access will be the fastest-growing, value-added ATM service in the next five years. For now, this represents transactions initiated by a smartphone instead of the traditional debit or credit card; in future, it could likely go off in other directions as well.

For now, as with most technology innovations that arrive unexpectedly and gain mainstream adoption overnight, we can’t imagine what those directions might be. But looking at even recent advances in ATM banking makes it clear that there’s plenty of innovation in this field.

For example, Piraeus Bank in Greece is taking the charms of social media interaction to heart—once you’ve signed on, its ATMs offer personal greetings, remind you of upcoming milestones such as birthdays and anniversaries and ease the process of buying gifts. ANZ Banking Group of Australia and New Zealand, meanwhile, is taking the environmentally friendly route, with ATMs in containers using solar power. Canada’s Scotiabank sees its ATM properties more as a communications tool than a cash dispenser—and by no coincidence at all, a key component of its overall mobile strategy. (For the record, these were just some of the highlights at the ATMIA 2013 conference earlier this month.)

There are interesting developments on the technology side too. For example, with new services now available, banks are partnering with state lottery boards to dispense lottery tickets, and ‘contactless’ ATM banking via NFC (near-field communications) is already on the market, and gaining popularity in some regions.

All of which brings us back to mobile. There’s a certain inevitability to this—we use smartphones and we use ATMs, which means that at some point vendors will successfully unite the two in ways that consumers find convenient. More than half the industry professionals polled in the ATMIA survey said that mobile-initiated ATM services will enjoy the fastest growth in the next five years. (In case you’re wondering, there’s already been a patent protection application filed for “contactless automated teller machine.”)

So beyond the obvious, how will this work? What can we do with an ATM-smartphone combo that we can’t do as well with either one? Innovators, you have the floor.

Image courtesy of scottchan /


Written by Staff