63% Polled Prefer ATMs to Tellers

For many consumers, automated teller machines have become their primary link to financial institutions, according to a study released last week by Financial Interchange Inc.

The Houston-based organization, which runs the Pulse regional automated teller machine network, sponsored the research, which polled 1,475 ATM cardholders in the Southwest to gauge their electronic banking needs and preferences.

The research found that a large percentage of banking customers were committed to using cash machines, even when they are charged for using them.

Preferred over Tellers

Among the findings: 63% of ATM users would use an ATM even if there were no line at the teller window, and over 60% of users believe the fees charged for ATM use are fair, if not "a bargain."

In the four weeks preceding the survey, 76% of the respondents used an ATM at their own institution, they said, and 46% said they had used one at an ATM owned by another financial institution.

About 70% of respondents said they would not hold an account with a financial institution that did not offer access to ATMs.

And 37% of respondents said they believed the fees charged for ATM use were just right; another 32.5% said the fees were "a real bargain."

A full 82% of the consumers said their banks do not charge fees for transactions on their own ATMs. Sixty-four percent said they are charged fees on foreign ATMs, but that the fees were $1.00 or less.

In contrast, 45.2% of respondents said the fees banks charge for check overdrafts were "way too high."

About a third of users said they would like to see debit point-of-sale services - in which a customer uses an ATM card at a retailer's checkout line - offered in more types of stores, such as pharmacies and department stores.

In 1990, 8% of Pulse's 71 million transactions were point-of-sale transactions. Randall's Food Markets Inc., based in Houston, is one of the most successful users of POS in the country. The company has said that about 5% of its sales are made through POS services.

Point-of-sale services at supermarkets, gas stations, convenience stores, or other retailers, had been tried by about one-fifth of the customers. Of those that use POS services, 39% said they'd like to see the service offered at pharmacies, 37% at department stores, 37% at restaurants.

According to the survey, only 7% of the ATM users had used their card for point of sale use during the previous four weeks, but 17% had used it for POS at some time in the past.

8.5 Million Cardholders

Pulse, which recently marked its tenth anniversary and is one of the oldest regional ATM networks in the United States, serves 8.5 million cardholders at 1,350 financial institutions in the Southwest.

Stan Paur, president of Pulse, heads a group of officials of 12 regional networks that are seeking to establish a nationwide point-of-sale network that would allow shoppers to use their ATM cards at gas stations, supermarkets, convenience stores, and other stores outside their own regions.

Mr. Paur said that regional ATM networks need to explore options to provide more sophisticated services. One of these is "electronic data interchange," or EDI, where payment and nonfinancial data are transmitted together. Such a network would, for example, be able allow the electronic transfer of medical payments and data between health care providers and insurance companies.

PHOTO : Southwest ATM Users Warm Up to Point-of-Sale

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