Managers of electronic funds transfer networks are living in "turbulent times," Dennis Lynch, president and chief executive officer of NYCE, told his network's annual conference.
"The boundaries are changing, the rules are changing, and people are trying to enter each other's businesses," Mr. Lynch said.
The search for transaction growth and revenue has led NYCE and other leading electronic banking networks to offer new services such as processing transactions made at automated teller machines, debit card processing, and home banking.
Meanwhile, the ATM networks must deal with the furor over ATM surcharging, which has driven some consumers away from shared machines, and new products that compete against their on-line debit cards.
Mr. Lynch was speaking in New York in late May, two days after Visa U.S.A. announced one of those challenges: a new on-line debit service with the option of personal identification number, as well as signature verification.
On the plus side for NYCE and other regionals, transaction volumes are still growing, particularly at points of sale and in the emerging electronic benefits transfer field.
But in the wake of recent megamerger agreements, "we have to figure out how to be successful in a world where some banks own more ATMs than we do," Mr. Lynch told an audience of 350.
Stan Paur, president and CEO of Texas-based Pulse EFT Association, and Richard Bolton, president of Charter Bank of Waltham, Mass., spoke on the fee controversy.
"This is the fun part of my job," said Mr. Paur, a surcharge advocate who has braved his share of brickbats. "I'm not here to persuade or dissuade you. I'm just here to present the facts."
Mr. Paur showed statistics in support of his case. He suggested bankers opposed to surcharges draw up business plans to offset the fees rather than pursue "legislative solutions."
Mr. Bolton gave the perspective of a community bank that has deployed nine ATMs-five in branches, four off-premises. The decision to surcharge was a "no-brainer."
Surcharging customers only at the off-site machines, the $85 million thrift boosted its market presence and its income, Mr. Bolton said. The bank also generates revenues by selling advertising space on the ATM screens.
"My competition is aggravated," Mr. Bolton said. "We look a lot bigger than we really are."
The business took a ribbing from a comedian who spoke at the opening ceremony.
Jeffrey Ross, who has appeared on the Jay Leno and David Letterman programs, showed a video of himself walking the streets of New York and asking pedestrians about electronic banking.
Two businessmen whom Mr. Ross was shown collaring on the sidewalk began debating the merits of on-line versus off-line debit. Their argument quickly degenerated into a shoving match.
Then Mr. Ross asked a street vendor about electronic benefits transfer. Naturally, the woman was well-versed in the government's initiative to convert paper checks and food stamps to electronic delivery. She gave Mr. Ross a thorough explanation.
Back in the real world, it did not seem so complicated. A person attending an unrelated conference stopped a NYCE employee to ask what his company did. In a rush to attend a seminar, the employee put it in a nutshell: "We transfer money."