Hot Question: How Much To Charge for ATM Use?

The pricing of automated teller machine services is the No. 1 issue in electronic banking today, an industry survey has found.

Among 105 officials in electronic funds transfers at financial institutions in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, 17% said ATM pricing issues topped their list of concerns for 1991. Integrating electronic banking products into their overall retail banking strategy was their second most important concern, with 14% calling it the top priority.

"It was amazing," said Thomas E. Reynolds, a senior vice president at Speer & Associates Inc., an Atlanta-based research firm that has surveyed ATM-owning institutions for six consecutive years. "Pricing was just not a sensitive issue last year."

A New Focus

The 1991 study, released last week, marks the first time that a significant number of bankers queried by Speer mentioned pricing concerns at all.

"That is partly because of increased pressure on revenues," Mr. Reynolds said.

Nearly three-quarters of the respondents said they charge their customers for each withdrawal they make at another bank's ATM. And slightly more than one-fourth charge for withdrawals made at their own ATMs.

The most common fee levied for "foreign" withdrawals is $1, but fees range from 25 cents to $1.50. Among banks that charge for withdrawals at their own machines, 30 cents is the most common fee, with the range being 10 cents to $1.

Some institutions - 56% of respondents - reported charging consumers anywhere from 25 cents to $1.50 for conducting balance inquiries at other bank ATMs. In addition, 13% of respondents impose an annual fee for the ATM card itself. These charges range from $1 to $20.

As a group, the 105 survey respondents reported a total of 29.9 million ATM cardholders, representing 33.3 million transaction accounts. In 1990, they operated more than 18,000 ATMs and handled over 809.5 million transactions, or about 67.5 million a month.

The group's average cardholder used an ATM card 27 times last year.

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