The slowdown in consumer spending has cooled the growth of automated teller machine systems.

According to a survey by Speer & Associates, the 20 largest shared ATM networks handled 127.4 million transactions a month last year. The total was up 10% from 1990 - a growth rate well below the 15% to 20% of previous years.

Speer, an Atlanta-based consulting firm, counts interchange transactions - those conducted by cardholders who are not customers of the machine-owning bank.

Overall Growth Also Fell

The interchange trend is similar to that for all network transactions as tracked by Bank Network News, an industry newsletter. That growth rate fell to 14% in 1991 from 28% in 1990.

Interchange levels are seen as an important measure not only of ATM acceptance, but of profitability, because card-issuing banks pay machine-owning banks fees each time card-holders use their machines.

While interchange growth at the major ATM systems slowed in 1991, Speer and some network executives are optimistic that it will pick up soon.

"It's one of those blips on the chart," said Ron Dennis, a senior vice president at Speer. "We'll see 15% to 20% growth again."

Consumers More Confident

Network executives said their optimism is partially fueled by increased consumer confidence. As people begin to spend again, they would be expected to carry more cash, which often comes from ATMs.

Also, market research has shown that increasing numbers of consumers are using ATM cards, and longtime users are becoming more reliant on them.

At Star System Inc., total monthly volume dropped 3% from September 1991 to January 1992, according to Ronald V. Congemi, president of the San Diego-based network.

"That was phenomenal," Mr. Congemi said. "It's never happened in our history."

But since January, monthly volume has increased 22.5%, Mr. Congemi reported. The growth was partly due to the economic recovery, he said.

Boost from Big Merger

Star rose a notch on Speer's ranking, as interchange volume rose 31.8% last year to 11.3 million a month. The network received a boost from the merger of BankAmerica Corp. and Security Pacific Corp., which are temporarily using Star to link their systems.

In the Speer study, CoreStates Financial Corp.'s Money Access Service, known as Mac, was the No. 1 network in monthly interchange transactions in 1991 - a position it has held for seven years. But monthly interchange at the network increased a paltry 3%, to 26.2 million transactions, last year.

By contrast, monthly volume at the No. 2 network, the New York Cash Exchange, soared 27.4%, to 15.2 million.

"We don't exactly fit the pattern," said Elizabeth A. Taylor, a senior vice president at NYLCE. "You can say growth has slowed down over time, but it's still excellent."

Mac's prowess, however, should not be underestimated. The network processes about the same number of interchange transactions as NYCE and Star combined.

"Mac is working off such a large base that even small growth has a big impact on their numbers," said Mr. Dennis.

The number of installed ATMs at the top 20 networks grew only 6% to 74,070 in 1991, compared with an 18% increase one year earlier, Speer said.

Debit cards issued by members of those networks totaled 131.6 million, up 7% last year. Speer said 1991 was the fourth year in a row when interchange volume grew at a faster rate than ATMs and cards.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.