In the seemingly generic world of automated teller machines, some banks have found a way to capture the spotlight in their markets.

The gimmick is coupons: multicolored, perforated advertisements that are printed on the face of ATM receipts.

One institution using the coupon program is Denverbased Central Bank.

"We want to promote a sense of connection between our bank and the local businesses," said Ann Schmitt, Central's vice president of ATM and merchant banking.

Central uses Atlanta-based Automatic Coupon Corp.'s Automatic Bank Bonus program, which aims at increasing banks' ATM volume by providing discounts for wellknown products and services whenever an ATM receipt is generated after a transaction. It also allows the $2.5 billion-asset bank to differentiate its ATMs from the competition.

Central Bank realized early on, and industry observers agree, that having a corner on the ATM market is no longer enough. Banks need to deviate from the norm a bit to stay ahead of the pack and create value for customers.

"Even if the number of machines your bank has outnumbers the rest, it's important to give people incentives to bank with you," said Paul Martuas, president of Martuas & Associates, Clearwater, Fla. "Size is no longer the only issue."

According to Ms. Schmitt, the ATM coupon program - available to only one bank from each market - does just that for Central Bank.

Other banks offering the program include First Interstate Bancorp, Society Corp., and Banc One Corp.

"In a commodity business like ATMs you've got to find pivotal ways to differentiate yourself," Ms. Schmitt said. "The decision to take part in the program was strategic to our ATMs over time."

It's a win-win situation for all involved, said Sherri Kroonenberg, assistant vice president of the 1,200-employee bank's ATM and merchant banking areas.

Banks win an easy method of adding value to ATM transactions, thereby gaining the loyalty of current customers and attracting new users. Advertisers win an easy and effective coupon distribution system. Bank customers win discounts on products and services they know and use.

"It's smart business all around because we're looking to increase transaction volume and revenues and our advertisers are looking to increase sales," Ms. Kroonenberg said.

Retail marketing executives agree that the program helps them reach an upscale audience in a clutter-free environment - when that audience has immediate access to cash.

"We're open to all avenues of advertising," said Andrew Wright, field marketing coordinator at Arby's Inc., Denver. "When the ATM distribution idea was presented to us, it seemed like a natural way to get our message across and get a coupon in people's hands."

Other major advertisers that have paid to place their logos on Central Bank's ATM receipts are: Bennigans, Blockbuster Video, Domino's Pizza, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Jiffy Lube, and Dunkin' Donuts.

Automatic Coupon Corp. operates the bank bonus program on a turnkey basis under exclusive contract with banks. The firm contracts with the bank and sells the coupon advertising. Automatic Coupon Corp. pays all additional printing charges and is responsible for solicitation and implementation of the advertising coupons. The bank is not charged a fee, since Automatic Coupon Corp. generates its revenues from the advertisers.

What's more, no special equipment need be installed. Officials at Automatic Coupon Corp. said that the program can work on any ATM that features a standardized receipt size. The list of compatible units include Diebold, NCR, and Fujitsu.

And although the bank doesn't have to spend any money to offer the program, it can make money. For example Central Bank is making incremental profits by increasing ATM use. With more than 260 machines dispersed in cities throughout Colorado, Central Bank, a subsidiary of Minneapolis-based First Bank System Inc., is cleaning up on noncustomer fees.

"Distributing coupons gives our noncustomers a reason to use our ATMs and creates a reason for them to seek us out," Ms. Schmitt.

To ensure that consumers are aware of the coupon bonus program, the bank has turned to marketing. The coupon bonus system is marketed to customers by electronic messages on the ATM screen, posters placed in advertising retail outlets where couponed products and services are offered, bank counter cards, inserts in monthly bank statements, and in advertising placed by participating banks.

Gauging the success of the program is a bit tricky, given the fact that it was just launched in April. But according to anecdotal evidence, it has resulted in stepped-up use of the bank's ATMs in branches as well as remote sites like shopping centers, convenience stores, and gaming establishments.

"Our initial read is that the program has been extremely successful," Ms. Kroonenberg said. "I often stand in the bank lobby and watch people's reactions when a coupon comes out on their receipt. For a lot of people it's an unexpected treat and it really grabs their attention."

Participating retailers tell a similar story.

"It's a bit early to see how the program is working just yet but we've gotten a ton of phone calls from store managers commenting about all the ATM coupons they're getting in and about how much they like the idea. They're really excited about it."

"In the ATM business, everyone looks the same but this program gives us a little spin on the ball," Ms. Schmitt said.

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