- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Banks across the country are rolling out new automated teller machines that go beyond giving consumers cash and account balances.

Some new ATMs, referred to by the industry as "enhanced" ATMs, sell postage stamps, long-distance phone minutes and even tickets to sporting events or plays. Others allow users to deposit money, get mini-statements, send money orders and transfer funds. In some regions, consumers can get subway cards and coupons with their cash.

"I think enhanced ATMs are very appealing and will be useful and embraced by consumers," said John Hall, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association, an industry trade group. "But and here's the big but plain, old cash dispensers will always be popular because many people want to just walk up to a machine, get cash and leave as fast as possible."

That is why it has taken the banking industry about three years of testing. Major banks like Bank of America and Wachovia are just now rolling out thousands of the new cash dispensers.

The machines themselves are not new. Some are the same old ATMs, but with new software that is much more advanced than previous programs.

To accustom users to the new technology, banks often put an old machine near a new one.

An example is Wachovia's two ATMs at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW. One of the machines is a traditional cash dispenser. The other is newer and allows users to make deposits, get account mini-statements and other bank forms.

How Wachovia, formerly First Union, is adopting the technology shows the industry's overall strategy. First Union, which bought Wachovia a year ago, began installing new features on its ATMs in 2000. Now 2,800 machines under the logo allow customers throughout the Southeast to buy phone time and print documents.

First Union's some 4,000 ATMs also feature targeted internal advertising. So if a customer is using his ATM and, based on demographics, the ATM sees that he might like a debit/credit card, a message will pop up while the customer is waiting for his money, asking him if he would like an upgraded card. If not, he moves on, and the ATM network is programmed never to ask the same question twice.

If he does want it, it would be sent to him the next day.

"The advertising is strictly internal," said Sarah Holden, Wachovia spokeswoman. "It's just based on something that we feel that customer might be interested in."

Because people like to be done quickly with ATMs, the bank has programmed its machines to advertise bank products only during nonpeak hours. So questions won't be asked between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 5 and 7 p.m.

These features were not available on Wachovia ATMs, but as the two banks convert all their machines, many of the older ones will be upgraded. About 600, between the two banks, allow customers to buy stamps and phone time.

Wachovia plans to install another 1,200 ATMs throughout the country by next summer.

Other banks are jumping on the bandwagon.

Bank of America, the nation's largest ATM operator and largest bank, recently installed some 500 machines that allow customers to preset preferences for cash-withdrawal amounts and ask whether or not the customer wants a receipt. One of them is in the District, at a State Department building on 22nd and C Streets NW.

"We will have more than 2,000 [new machines] installed by the end of the year and we are going to convert the vast majority of our 14,000 machine over the next three to five years," said Brad Russell, spokesman for Bank of America.

Another bank rolling out new machines is FleetBoston, which has installed in the Northeast nearly 4,000 new ATMs that allow customers to tap funds from home-equity loans.

ETrade also is tapping the Boston market, as well as New York, San Francisco and Denver. These new ATMs enable users to purchase prepaid wireless and gift cards. They also offer flexibility in transferring funds between accounts.

In the Western United States, Wells Fargo is testing its own new products with 1,700 ATMS in 21 states.

These new machines like Wachovia's feature targeted advertising. They also show movie trailers and the MSNBC news ticker, run streaming-video ads during transactions and bid adieu to customers not only with a receipt, but also with coupons.

While the number of cash machines has quadrupled to some 324,000 in the United States in recent years, and while they racked up $2.3 billion in user fees last year, the number of monthly transactions per ATM has fallen by half since 1996.

That's because banks are fighting for customers at every gas station and corner store.

Convenience-store chain 7-Eleven is one of the first non-bank entities to get into the business of enhanced ATMs. The company is testing about 100 machines in Florida and Texas that allow users to cash checks and send wire transfers. The company has said it plans to install nearly 4,000 more of these new ATMs throughout the country by the end of next year.

Fidelity Investments is also getting into the new ATMs business. Its machines offer many features, including one that allows users to choose 401(k) retirement-plan options.

"It's a new function nobody had done on ATMs before," said Rob Evans, director for industry marketing at NCR Corp. "And when you walk by it, it looks the same way as before."

NCR, which made all of Wachovia's machines, has sold about 200 new units to Fidelity, Mr. Evans said.

The new machines are much more expensive. An old cash dispenser went for $10,000 to $15,000. Some of the new ones run as much as $50,000.

"It's all up to customers," the ABA's Mr. Hall said. "If they embrace them and begin to want more functionality of the bank, you'll find more banks will have more enhanced ATMs."

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