A recent proliferation of legislation aimed at automated teller machines has caused some in the electronic banking industry to question the motives driving the sponsors of such measures.
In the last few years, ATM-related legislation has abounded on the state, county, and city levels. Until this year, these measures have addressed mainly; ATM security, which is an area that many bankers admit could use some improvement.
However, in recent months, legislators have targeted ATMs with a variety of regulations from transaction pricing to the type of envelope required for deposits.
Given that banks are often perceived as the enemy of the consumer, some bankers and network executives wonder whether ATM legislation is becoming one of the tools that politicians use to carve out votes from their constituencies.
"ATMs are an appealing target for legislators," said one banker involved in the hearings that led to New York City's ATM security law. "Probably 60% of voting age constituents use ATMs, and legislators know they can benefit from striking a blow on those peoples' behalf against the big, bad banks."
Bankers are reluctant to express their opinions on this subject publicly because many have learned from the experience of New York bankers that an antagonistic relationship with regulators can undermine compromise on ATM legislation.
In 1992, New York bankers tried to force the City Council to withdraw an ATM security bill, but their efforts came close to making the already strict bill more stringent.
The perception that charges of grandstanding would incense legislators appears to be an accurate one. Public officials contracted for this story bristled at the questioning of their motives.
A spokesman for Illinois Treasurer Patrick Quinn - who is the driving force behind a measure that would require ATMs in Illinois to disclose transaction fees on their screens - said that the Treasurer's office pushed for legislation only because citizens indicated that it should be a priority.
"We are reacting to consumer concerns, nothing more," said the spokesman, Daniel Shomon.
"It's not necessarily a bad thing [for politicians] to please voters," said Robert Creamer of Illinois Public Action, a Chicago-based consumer group that supports the legislation. "In fact, that is their job."
Bankers understand the reasons behind the increased attention given ATMs. In less than 20 years, the self-service terminals have grown from an experimental delivery mechanism to the most common point of bank contact for more than half of retail customers.
The number of ATMs in the United States is expected to hit 100,000 in the next few years, and transaction traffic continues to grow as more consumers embrace automated banking. Given this situation, bankers and network executives acknowledge that a certain amount of regulation of the terminals is expected.
"I think because of the pivotal role that financial institutions and ATMs play in a consumer's life, they are always going to be the center of [legislative] attention," said Stan Pau, president of the Pulse EFT association, based in Houston.
However, many bankers feel that some current legislative efforts go beyond what is necessary. A New York State bill introduced in February, for instance, would require that deposit envelopes in ATM sites be self-adhesive, so that patrons do not have to lick them in order to seal their deposit.
In other cases -- the proposed Illinois law, for instance - electronic banking experts complain that the legislators do not understand the technical implications of some requirements.
This lack of understanding, coupled with a reluctance to learn about the transaction pricing implications of technical changes, is the best indication to bankers that some lawmakers are more interested in impressing voters than in improving ATM services.
A solution may bein the offing in many states. Bankers and network executives recognize that compromise on ATM legislation can come only if both sides understand the issues.
"It's going to be best for all parties involved in lawmakers draft legislation in concert with the banks rather than in spite of them," said Kurt Helwig, acting president and chief executive at the Electronic Funds Transfer Association in Reston, Va.