New ATMs: Smarter, More Versatile

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Have you gone to an ATM recently? These everyday machines are starting to get more complex and interactive. Depending on where you are in the U.S. you may be noticing that many ATMs are now accepting checks without envelopes, math, or worry. That’s right, new ATMs are able to scan checks, read the amount, and provide a print out for your records. In convenient stores, some of these machines have evolved into miniature financial centers with bill-pay and other more complex transactions. These daily improvements in technology may be going unnoticed, but we thought it was time they got a little more press.

Two different versions of the new Wells Fargo ATMs
Two different versions of the new Wells Fargo ATMs that accept cash and checks using OCR scanning.

Wells Fargo and Bank of America have led the way with ATMs that can read bills and checks written with optical character recognition (OCR). You just slide in your checks (usually all at once) and all the computation is done for you. Digitally scanned copies of the checks are available on screen and are printed so that you can keep track of your deposit. It’s easy and intuitive and will reduce theft, paper waste, and time. A friend of mine just used one the BOA ATMs and was dully impressed, “Using one of these babies for the first time is a real eye opening experience. You find yourself wondering if that machine in front of you is alive or not. Is it going to wave goodbye too?” The machines really are becoming automated tellers, with a level of comprehensive interactiont that is far ahead of the curve.

7-Eleven, Exxon, and Circle K all have nation wide gas stations and convenience stores with financial kiosks. These machines are one step up from ATMs, allowing a wide range of transactions including email, secure deposit, and bill pay. The service fees may be high ($2-$3) but more and more customers are finding them a convenient alternative to traveling to pay bills in person. In fact, the bill pay feature is so popular in areas with high immigrant populations that machines will sometimes have to be shut down because they are too full of money.

A mock-up of the check review screen shows how multiple checks can be scanned and printed for your records.
A mock-up of the check review screen shows how multiple checks can be scanned and printed for your records.

The roll-out of the smart ATMs and convenient store financial centers has been uneven across the country. North and South Carolina have had the new Bank of America ATMs for more than three years. I’m betting that half of you reading this article are thinking, “…old news” while the other half are wondering when your town will upgrade. As they make their way to different states, the next generation of financial transaction machines are undergoing a continuing refinement process. So those of you who are still waiting might be getting a better product.

Science fictions fans, conspiracy nuts, and economic theorists share a common interest in a single world currency. But most don’t even consider how the rapid change of currency media (cash, check, digital records, credit cards) has created a single abstract medium. You can turn the number in an account into bills, checks, money orders, etc, so quickly now, and with so little effort, that we may not even think of the different forms as important. The new ATMs and miniature financial centers are pushing us towards a time when the way you carry your money will be meaningless. Check, cash, galactic credit chip…it’s all the same to the ATM.

By the way, we tried to find a video of one of the ATMs in action, but couldn’t. May be illegal to film one in action. In any case, please enjoy the Lego™ version: