Sticky

Is it all over for the ATM?                           

Hygiene fears sparked by Covid-19 are just one more factor pushing ATMs off our streets. Mobile phones and laptops already provide many of the ATM’s functions, but how will this affect banks’ ability to connect with their customers?

It’s no surprise to learn that ATMs are a cesspool of germs. ‘Dirtier than a toilet’ isn’t far off: SavingSpot did their own research and came up with a list of ‘what to avoid’ when using an ATM, citing ATM touchscreens as just a little dirtier than a public toilet seat and a whole lot dirtier than a door handle of a public toilet. Lovely!

Money itself is just as filthy, with the BBC reporting that 19 different kinds of bacteria can be found in the musical jangle in our wallets. Anyone for acquiring some acne, mouth microbes or vaginal bacteria in addition to their fivers? At least some of our notes are now washable… 

Such hygiene concerns are just one of a number of reasons to bid goodbye and good riddance to the ATM, you might think. But would customers welcome this? And how can banks make sure customers don’t miss out on their benefits?

Not an overnight disappearing act

It’s become easier to get cash without visiting an ATM: cashback, for instance, means you can get your nephew’s birthday notes alongside the cauliflower and potatoes at Sainsbury’s, and contactless means we don’t have to worry about fumbling our notes and counting our coins at the counter.

The Covid-19 crisis is likely to encourage cashless behaviour, with most retailers requesting card-only transactions.

The Covid-19 crisis is likely to encourage cashless behaviour, with most retailers requesting card-only transactions

As our shift to a cashless society ramps up, however, it’s fair to note that the disappearance of ATMs is nothing new. In fact, Which? identified back in September 2018 that ATMs were on the decline. In 2019, it revealed that 250 parts of the UK have ‘poor ATM provision’, with some having none at all

Do people miss ATMs? A quick straw poll around our office indicates just over 70% of our colleagues would feel negatively about not being able to access one. If you feel the same way, you can request one for your area

The value of cash

It’s difficult, in a world in which cashless solutions are ever-increasing, to argue the real benefits of an ATM. Sure, ATMs may provide opportunities to get physical cash in rural areas, provide tourists with a means for local currency and may attract footfall to retailers and local stores. But the digital transformation of our lives is relentless, and a cashless society feels inevitable. 

So what do people actually need their cash for? Well, lots of things, when you think about it: simply cast your mind back to the last time you needed to pay your cleaner, or buy a Big Issue magazine, or give pocket money to your child.  

Historically, older generations tend to prefer cash too, as this 2011 report by Age UK advises. In In 2017, Which? Revealed that 17% of Brits would expect going cashless to be impossible

during the Covid-19 lockdown it’s likely that those who were previously resistant to online banking or contactless payments may have had to have overcome their concerns out of necessity

Is that an ATM in your pocket?

Despite the value we still place on cash, during the Covid-19 lockdown it’s likely that those who were previously resistant to online banking or contactless payments may have had to have overcome their concerns out of necessity – and will now be more willing to continue to go cashless in future.

Would a lack of ATMs pressurise banks to roll out improved phone banking features as soon as possible? To understand what this would require, we need to ask what key banking transactions an ATM already provides. 

Phone transactions

  • Deposit cheques 
  • Check balances
  • Get mini statements
  • Set preferences
  • Change your ATM PIN

ATM transactions

  • Deposit cash (might be an in-branch ATM)
  • Withdraw cash (multi denominations available in some locations)
  • Use different bank cards in one machine

A shift towards an ATM-less society would require banks to:

  • Ensure mobile banking can handle all ATM transactions (aside from the hard-cash transactions, of course). Those retail banks that cannot accommodate cheque deposits, for example, might see a shift in footfall as customers look for ATM replacements on their phone.
  • Deliver easily accessible mobile banking for all. Accessibility has never been more of an imperative: ensuring that all your customers can access their bank and perform their transactions online is crucial. 
  • Support mobile journeys with simple, plain-language copy to help customers perform their transactions. 

Content collateral on ATMs

As well as access to cash and other services, ATMs also provide an opportunity for brand awareness and content collateral.

Touch screens usually display latest marketing news, making sure that those who haven’t logged on to their banks recently, or seen promotional material elsewhere, can see the latest updates.

These updates could be anything from important regulatory roll-outs to sustainable or charitable initiatives undertaken by the bank. Cummins Allison lists out the marketing benefits of branded ATMs

In an ATM-less landscape, banks will need to work harder to bring all their customers onto online and app-based banking.

Into the future 

In any society, the fate of cash dispensers will be closely tied up with the fate of cash. In an ATM-less landscape, banks will need to work harder to bring all their customers onto online and app-based banking – and ensure that no one gets left behind – and that brand awareness isn’t harmed – when this once-essential physical touchpoint starts to disappear from streets. 

For further information on Sticky, please contact: Rajet Gamhiouen, Head of Marketing, +44 (0)207 963 7281

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