Growth in the U.S. fleet of automated teller machines and point of sale terminals is likely to continue unabated into next year, according to a study from Speer & Associates.

The midyear survey found bankers expecting the number of point of sale debit terminals to grow by more than 70% in 1993. The termminals let consumers make purchases with ATM cards rather than cash or checks.

The number of ATMs was also expected to grow this year, though the extent to which ATMs have already saturated the U.S. was seen as limiting that growth to about 10%.

Similar growth rates are expected for 1994, according to Speer consultants.

The Speer study, which polled 102 financial institutions of varying size, made no predictions about the absolute numbers of electronic banking terminals.

But, applying Speer growth predictions to 1992 figures from Bank Network News suggests there should be about 96,000 ATMs and 200,000 point of sale terminals by Jan. 1.

The expansion of bank point of sale debit programs has been predicted for years.

Thus the figures for the growth in the number of point of sale terminals are not as surprising as they would appear.

The continued growth in the number of ATMs continues to amaze many observers, though. As early as 1988, electronic banking experts had believed that the market could support no more of the self-service banking terminals.

But the fact that the number of ATM transactions continues to rise each year has convinced many bankers that customers would make good use of more terminals.

The most popular places for new installations are high-traffic locations such as convenience stores and shopping malls.

"I don't know that this trend can continue much longer," said Kere Lewis, senior vice president at Atlanta-based Speer & Associates.

"Though it's been said before, I would expect that the number of locations that can support an ATM is pretty close to being exhausted."

Slowdown Seen

Mr. Lewis said that after 1995, banks will probably begin to slow the addition of more teller machines.

Rather then focusing so hard on adding new automated teller machines, bankers should be trying to increase the percentage of customers who have ATM cards, experts said.

Increasing the number of cardholders will open up the possibility of new transaction revenue from both ATMs and point of sale terminals.

According to Speer, the average number of transactions per card grew 18% in 1992, and that growth was expected to continue through this year and next.

Penetration Rates

A handful of banks - located mostly in the Midwest - have been able to place cards in the hands of more than 85% of their customers. However, the vast majority of financial institutions have penetration rates around 65%.

"The larger banks have been much more effective at getting cards to their customers," said Mr. Lewis.

The 102 banks involved in the survey indicated that they expected to see 7% growth in their debit card base during 1993, but Speer cautions that those predictions may be high.

High Hopes

"We talk with a lot of institutions that believe that they'll get better penetration of their account base with debit cards because of the advent of POS," said Mr. Lewis.

While acknowledging that the greater the utility of the card, the better chance banks have of getting customers to use it, Mr. Lewis said he does not believe that cardholder bases will grow without concerted promotional efforts from financial institutions.

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