Bank of America Corp. plans to install Internet technology in 12,000 to 13,000 of its 14,000 automated teller machines over the next two years.
When the upgrades are complete, every branch will have at least one ATM that lets customers pay bills, view canceled checks, send and receive messages, check stock quotes, view updated portfolios, and buy or sell stocks, goods, and services.
Bank of America is not the only banking company with ambitious plans in this regard. In May, Wells Fargo & Co. said it had teamed up with MSNBC.com and DreamWorks SKG and would deliver 800 Web ATMs in California and Arizona by yearend. These machines would give customers bank promotions, news, and advertising via full-motion video.
Bank of America introduced its first Web-enabled ATM in its headquarters city of Charlotte, N.C., on Aug. 27, and said it plans to install 21 more in Charlotte and Atlanta by yearend. The initiative is part of a plan announced last month for a "major overhaul" of its 4,500 bank branches.
"Eventually four out of every six ATMs in one location might be Internet kiosks, while the other two remain fast-cash machines," said Susan Schneider, a Bank of America senior vice president who is the executive in charge of channel strategy and development.
The company's first Web ATM is a standard machine that has been souped up with a Pentium processor, color touch-screen monitor, sound card, and Web software, plus a thermal printer that can issue receipts and coupons. The enhancement is expected to cost between $2,000 and $10,000 per machine, Ms. Schneider said; older models will cost the most to upgrade. The bank is working with Diebold Inc. of North Canton, Ohio, and NCR Corp. of Dayton, Ohio.
Only a few banking companies have publicized their forays into Web ATMs. Union Planters Corp. of Memphis entered the fray last year, installing a lone Internet ATM in its corporate operations center in Cordova, Tenn.
Perhaps the first North American bank to introduce Web-enabled ATMs was Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, which in 1997 deployed seven "Smart ABMs" (automated banking machines). The Web technology added an entertainment function but no additional banking activities. Customers can use these terminals to visit the Cineplex Odeon Web site and buy movie tickets.
According to Cassie Metzger, senior global marketing manager at Diebold, Web ATMs are equipped to perform many advanced functions, but it is up to the banks to implement them.
Bank of America says its pilot ATMs in Charlotte and Atlanta will be used to determine which features customers want, and whether customers find the new machines as fast and convenient as they are meant to be.
"Customers don't want to be slowed down," Ms. Schneider said.
Customers are concerned that Web-enabled ATMs will cause long lines and extend transaction times. But Bank of America said its initial research found that the new machines actually cut the average withdrawal time slightly, from 32 seconds to about 30. If people linger at the machines, banks could limit sites or transactions during peak hours, said Rob Evans, marketing manager at NCR.
Mr. Evans said the ATMs are vulnerable to common download problems that Web-surfers experience. "The only potential drawback would be if a Web site visited on the ATM is down or unavailable due to the site's server, or network error not the bank's or machine's," Mr. Evans said.
But he added, "enhanced ATM services will increase ATM usage. Most machines aren't being used to their capacity," he said, adding that some ATMs are unused for 40 to 45 minutes each hour."
The NCR machines are capable of running advertisements with full-motion video and audio, Mr. Evans said. These can run on the initial screen, during the transaction process, and at the end of a transaction. By selling advertisements to outside companies or promoting products of their own, "banks can use Web technology to deliver additional services and content as well as proactively sell and market," Mr. Evans said.
From Our Archive: