Personal financial management and ATMs might seem a jarring combination, but Wells Fargo & Co. says it can combine the technologies in a way that does not undermine either's mission.
On Wednesday, the San Francisco banking company plans to add a feature called ATM Cash Tracker to help users budget how much money they withdraw per month. Using a registration button at the bottom of their automated teller machine screens, Wells customers will be able to establish withdrawal parameters and see how much money they have taken out in the past.
The move is noteworthy because PFM is commonly pitched as a way to keep people at bank websites longer by giving them more ways to examine their spending. With ATMs, by contrast, enhancements generally focus on getting people to spend less time at the machines to keep the line moving.
The PFM feature is consistent with Wells' automated teller machine strategy of continually making small updates to its software.
This latest move — which observers say is the first of its kind — is meant to appeal to customers who might never have used PFM before.
"We really tried to think about what customers' needs are, and what the environment is like," said Alicia Moore, the head of Wells' ATM division.
Though customers could already track their spending online, "the ATM doesn't really offer anything," she said.
The Cash Tracker came out of an annual meeting of roughly 25 Wells programmers, marketing people and product managers. The session took place last February, and Cash Tracker took about eight months to develop.
Wells' ATM software will be updated Tuesday night as a part of one of its three yearly updates. Most Wells customers will see the feature early the next day.
Wells Fargo uses ATMs from NCR Corp., Wincor Nixdorf AG and Diebold Inc. All these machines run Wells' own software, so Cash Tracker will work at all of its ATMs. Customers of the former Wachovia Corp. will not immediately have access to the feature, but other customers accessing Wells accounts from Wachovia ATMs will. Wells bought Wachovia in 2008.
"We definitely view this as a channel," Moore said. "It's a touch point for the customer."
The feature is an attempt to make PFM more accessible, analysts said. "One of the pieces PFM has gotten mixed results on is that tracking of cash," said Nicole Sturgill, an analyst who specializes in ATM and online banking for TowerGroup.
"If they are going to be reminding customers at the ATM on the screen, your monthly budget is $500, and you currently have withdrawn $240," she said, "I think that's very powerful and much, much easier than what we have typically seen when people go to PFM."
Cash Tracker is just the latest in Wells' ATM improvements. Also this year, it began letting customers receive ATM receipts electronically. Wells' ATMs also remember certain preferences of customers who otherwise would be stuck inputting the same information every time they visit the driveup facility or bank branch — language preference, for example.
The software also builds on Wells' PFM strategy. Its online banking customers have access to a feature called My Spending Report, which lets customers track spending and create budgets for their accounts at Wells Fargo.
My Spending Report, like many PFM products, relies on card transaction data to automatically categorize spending. This makes it difficult to track cash spending.
Analysts say Cash Tracker could help close the gap between PFM and cash spending, but some issues with the software may remain for Wells to address. Since the tool is only accessible from the ATM, it will not track cash withdrawn through other channels, such as when a customer requests cash back at the grocery store.
"I think if the ATM was the only place I was getting my money, yeah, it works," said Cathy Graeber, the founder of the consulting and research firm Swimming Upstream. "I just worry it's not seeing the whole picture."
It is also possible that the feature could hold up lines, though analysts said this is a minor concern.
"Certainly, setting this up the first time might take a few minutes. That could be problematic in some cases," said Bob Meara, a senior banking analyst at Celent. "I don't see that as a big deal."
One way Cash Tracker could be improved would be to make it available online, analysts suggested.
"We have lots of ideas," said Moore. "It's more of an extension of Cash Tracker, not as much as a tweaking of the product."