Convenience is the driving factor in Alyssa Clarke's life.

A single working mother of a preschool-aged daughter, Ms. Clarke is always looking for simple, convenient ways to get things done. That's why she loves automated teller machines.

"I can't imagine how I would get my banking done without ATMs," said the 20-something Phoenix native.

This preference for convenience makes Ms. Clarke a typical bank customer in today's world. According to the American Banker's 11th annual survey of consumer attitudes toward banking services and products, two-thirds of U.S. consumers have ATM cards, and 84% of the cardholders use them.

What's more, consumer awareness of point of sale debit cards is increasing: 32% say they have such cards and 26% of the nonowners are interested in obtaining one.

These numbers indicate that banks are on the right track as they continue to invest in deploying ATMs, joining ATM networks, linking up with merchants for point of sale debiting, and delivering new products and services.

"Our retail customers' demographic profile reflects our aggressive ATM delivery strategy," said Robert Shay, senior vice president of BayBanks Inc., which is widely regarded as an ATM innovator.

"Our customers are somewhat younger, better educated, and more affluent than our competitors' customers," Mr. Shay said. "And believe me, that's reflected in our profitability."

The 1994 American Banker consumer survey, based on polling by the Gallup Organization, points to many significant consumer behaviors and preferences that banks should acknowledge as they plan their card strategy.

For example, ATM card penetration is back on the rise after several years of hovering around 60% of households. Of the 1,024 financial institution customers in the 1994 survey, 66% said they have ATM cards.

ATM card ownership increased across all age groups, particularly dramatically in the 18-34 group (to 77% from 68% in 1993) and the 45-54 group (to 68% from 60%).

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Users say they average seven ATM transactions a month, but 22% report a frequency of 10 or more times. The heaviest-using age group is 18 to 34, in which 34% use ATMs 10 or more times.

Although the American Banker/Gallup survey did not ask about the types of transactions consumers perform, other studies have found that close to 75% of all ATM transactions are simple cash withdrawals. The more frequent users are also the most likely to use the machines for other services, like transferring funds between accounts or checking account balances.

"In providing the cards, banks do well, but they are not stellar in education," said Ronald V. Congemi, president of Star System Inc. of San Diego, the regional network that connects the largest number of ATMs.

"Banks don't always sell all of the functions as well as they should," he added.

A handful of cutting-edge banks have been very successful in their efforts to get customers to use the cards for more than cash withdrawals.

"We regularly ask ourselves if there are other ways we can use ATMs to provide the convenience customers desire," said BayBanks' Mr. Shay. "Many of our frequent ATM users are very technology literate, and they surprise us with the functions they are ready to do at the ATM."

In the western states, where ATM card penetration is greatest, debit cards -- mainly ATM cards used at the point of sale, with the purchase price debited directly from the cardholder's checking account -- also have the widest distribution. Nationwide, 32% of consumers report they have debit cards, compared with 46% in the West. More than half (58%) of debit cardholders use the cards, and they average 4.7 transactions per month.

"POS received early, broadbased support in the West in 1985, with major retailer support," said Mr. Congemi. "So we've had almost a decade of experience with the major banks and the major retailers.

"You just haven't seen that depth of experience in other regions of the country."

Debit cardholders nationwide tend to be young -- 40% of those 18 to 34 own a debit card, with ownership declining steadily to 16% of those 65 and older.

And while only 26% of those with household incomes under $20,000 have a debit card, the proportion rises to 42% of those with incomes of $75,000 or more.

Among nonowners of debit cards, about 48% of the 18-to-34 age group are interested in obtaining one, versus only 7% percent of those 55 or older.

There's no good reason why these consumers are not being served, said Mr. Shay.

"I would think every bank in the country would do what we do, which is issue an ATM card as soon as a customer opens an account with us," the BayBanks official said. "Then, communicate how and where to use the card."

The American Banker/Gallup survey also asked what type of payment method the debit card replaces. Debit cards are used in place of checks by 56%, of cash by 39%, and of credit cards by 22%.

Respondents were allowed to select more than one response.

"Displacement issues are hot, and most banks do not have good numbers," said Anne Morgan Moore, president of Synergistics Research Corp. in Atlanta.

Ms. Moore's research shows that many debit card users get extra cash when they complete a point of sale transaction. In this way, she said, POS debit is starting to displace ATMs for obtaining cash.

"With cash transactions moving to POS debit and the customer base of ATM users reaching its highest potential, ATM transaction volume may decline," said Ms. Moore. "ATMs will have to be repositioned as sales and information machines."

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