If fast cash were fast food, BankAmerica Corp. would be McDonald's and Citicorp would be Burger King.

Like the fast-food rivals, and in keeping with the relative sizes of their retail banking networks, those banks are No. 1 and No. 2 in automated teller machines installed in the United States, according to the 1993 American Banker ATM survey.

And BankAmerica has a better than 2-to-1 edge over Citicorp, in line with the ratio of McDonald's franchises to Burger King's.

If there is an iron law at work, it would be the same as in all aspects of mass-market retailing: "Location is everything."

Closest Site Wins

Increasingly, for the ATM leaders and the banking industry as a whole, those locations are not traditional, brick-and-mortar branches. ATMs in themselves are an indication of a shift in the bank distribution mix, but their locations are also being diversified away from branches.

While the top 50 banking companies in ATMs increased their number of machines 10.7% in the 12 months ended June 30, to 35,403, their machines away from bank premises rose by 11.25%, to 7,336.

"Locational convenience is absolutely paramount in the way customers choose the ATM they will use," said Deborah Doyle McWhinney, senior vice president in consumer electronic banking at Bank of America in San Francisco.

Now that virtually all ATMs are connected to regional, national, or global shared networks -- all of BankAmerica's 5,000 machines are -- it pays for big banks to put machines wherever the traffic is.

"Two years ago, ATM users might look around a little for one of their bank's terminals, but now they let their feet do the voting, and the closest ATM is the one that gets the transaction," Ms. McWhinney said.

BankAmerica, whose 1,960 branches lead the industry, expanded its ATM network by 11% in the year ended June 36. BankAmerica did not disclose how many ATMs were installed away from branch offices.

Citicorp had 1,800 ATMs at midyear, down by 100 since 1992 and about six times its number of branches.

The two leaders accounted for almost 20% of the ATMs installed by the 50 largest deployers, and more than 7% of the approximately 94,000 machines installed by banks nationwide.

Including BankAmerica and Citicorp, nine banking companies each had at least 1,000 machines at midyear, compared with seven in 1992 and five in 1991.

Ms. McWhinney of BankAmerica said ATMs are generating the level of consumer usage and acceptance that bankers have been working toward since they began installing the machines more than 20 years ago.

Meeting a Need

But as consumers have grown more dependent on ATMs, they also Wave come to expect that the terminals will be available whenever and wherever needed. Bankers have obliged by adding to their fleets, despite a widespread belief that the country is close to the ATM saturation point.

At the 140 banks participating in both this year's and last year's survey, the overall number of ATMs grew by 10.5% in the 12 months ending in June, up from about 8% in 1992.

Several consultants who have accurately predicted recent growth rates expect banks to continue to add ATMs at a similar pace for at least the next two years.

"The number of [ATM] cardholders continues to rise. as does the number of average transactions per card," said Kere Lewis. senior vice president at Speer & Associates in Atlanta.

"So even while banks are adding machines, the average number of transactions per machines continues to grow."

Where to Put Them

According to a recent Speer & Associates study, the average monthly transactions per ATM rose from 5,000 in 1991 to 6,030 in 1992. That study is based on data from 102 banking companies of various sizes.

Still, there is no disputing that the electronic banking landscape is becoming crowded with ATMs.

For this reason, bankers are choosing more carefully where they place the terminals.

ATMs in branches are cheaper to support than those off premises, so it should come as little surprise that institutions are looking first at placing terminals close to home.

The American Banker survey indicated a 10.8% rise in the number of in-branch terminals at the top ATM banks through June.

The annual growth in off-premises terminals. at just over 11%, was down from 18% the year before.

Popular locations include shopping malls. convenience stores. and other locations where people are likely to need cash.

Price of Convenience

Robert Shay, a senior vice president at BayBanks Inc. in Boston, which has 796 machines, said his company's emphasis on off-premises installations has paid off by giving it "a visibility that we couldn't afford otherwise. We are what we are today largely because of the marketing benefits from our aggressive installation of ATMs."

Bankers are also becoming aware of the revenue-generating possibilities. More are charging for ATM services than ever before, according to the Speer & Associates report.

The average charge for an "on-us" transaction, in which a customer uses an ATM owned by the bank that issued his card, rose 41% in 1992 to 41 cents. Fees for interchange transactions, when a cardholder uses a machine not owned by the card-issuing bank, also rose slightly, with most banks charging between 90 cents and $1 per transaction.

"Customers have demonstrated that they will pay for convenience," said Catherine Bond, a consultant based in Hartford, Conn.

"If banks are going out of their way to provide that convenience, they should not shy away from reaping the rewards."

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