Study: Consumers Don't Understand About ATMs

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Does a "foreign" ATM mean it's located overseas? Many consumers don't know, according to a new study sponsored by the PULSE EFT Association that examined perceptions related to the cash machines.

In a survey of 748 ATM and debit card users conducted by Analytica Inc., more than 45% of cardholders who had used a foreign (or nonproprietary) ATM during the previous three weeks indicated confusion over the meaning of signage at the ATM. The survey found that one-fourth believed a lack of a match between at least one brand on their card and the brand on the ATM signaled that their card would not work in that machine. In addition, another one-fifth believed that if a match existed, no fees would be charged. "In most instances," PULSE said, "both assumptions would be wrong."

Stan Paur, president and CEO of PULSE, said the findings suggest that promotion of ATM brands may be counterproductive. "The fact is, virtually every ATM card will work at any ATM in the U.S."

Paur recommended that instead of focusing on brands, consumers should be made aware of the near-universal acceptance of ATM cards. "Consumers need to know where an ATM is located, the institution that operates it, and that all cards are accepted," he said.

Among the other findings:

* Some cardholders continue to fear the ATM will eat their card if they insert into a machine without a matched brand, a frequent misconception when ATMs initially debuted. The study found that younger and more frequent ATM users aren't likely to have that misperception.

* More than 60% of card users have conducted transactions with their card outside their home state, and 19% have used their card outside the country. The percentages are higher for more affluent cardholders.

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