ATM and branch locator apps can serve a valuable purpose for consumers seeking cash in unfamiliar territory, but there are many hurdles to keeping their data current and the machines properly branded.

Sometimes the apps and the real world don't agree. Until recently, PNC's Finder app listed an ATM that was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Cardtronics' app for its Allpoint surcharge-free machines lists some ATMs that don't have any Allpoint branding and in some cases falsely threatens the ATM will charge users a fee.

"Each scenario is different with an ATM locator because it's a case-by-case basis," says Cardtronics spokesman Nick Pappathopoulos. "The technology is simple enough to wrap your mind around, but deployment of it is not," he adds.

Depending on the bank and what other networks it's also involved in, there can be several sets of data to work with in setting up an ATM locator app for customers, Pappathopoulos says.

Cardtronics goes through a two-week cycle for data updates to its ATM locator app, and if customers provide information about a specific machine that is not working, it can make the change in real time, Pappathopoulos adds.

But various confusing scenarios can rear their heads. For example, an older ATM in the Allpoint Network may not have the technology to acknowledge free transactions with a "no surcharge" message on the screen. In those cases, a consumer completing a transaction may think the machine was assessing a surcharge, but the actual transaction receipt will show there was no fee, Pappathopoulos says.

In addition, a bank that is not part of Allpoint Network can own and operate machines that are in the network.

PNC works to improve its ATM Finder app and keep it updated, says Marcey Zwiebel, the bank's vice president and senior manager for communications. After a customer or bank branch alerts the PNC ATM team about a malfunctioning or damaged unit, it can take a week to 10 days to get the system updated after proper paperwork is filed, Zwiebel says.

(PaymentsSource contacted PNC on two occasions about the machine destroyed by Hurricane Sandy: a year ago for an earlier story and again on Jan. 24 for this article. The machine, at 6 Water St. in New York, was removed from PNC's listing last week.)

PNC's mobile app displays the same information that is available on the branch/ATM locator on the bank's website, with the ATM network team in charge of keeping it updated as accurately as possible, Zwiebel says.

The PNC app and online search provide information to customers about all of the ATMs available without a surcharge, she adds.

PNC customers have consistently used the Finder App since its inception in December 2011 for iPhone users and early 2012 for Android users. The app has an augmented-reality interface, showing branch and ATM locations over a video feed from the phone's camera. "Customers really enjoy the video-game-like application," Zwiebel says.

PNC is also contemplating a feature on the app that would let customers know how busy a certain branch might be and let them set up branch appointments through a mobile device, Zwiebel says.

Some banks, such as BBVA Compass, steer customers directly to the Allpoint finder through a link on the bank's website or mobile app. BBVA Compass also uses an in-house ATM team to manage its ATM locator app updates.

"We are continually updating the locator when ATMs are moved, added or changed throughout our network," says Jill Hunt, ATM network manager at BBVA.

Such attention to detail provides the bank its "greatest reward," Hunt says. Another benefit of offering a locator and managing it in-house is that the bank is able to update it quickly and integrate promotional messages when needed, she adds.

The bank monitors customer feedback and Internet traffic metrics to make sure the ATM locator app is being used, Hunt says.

It helps the bank know what customers want. "Our customers tend to request that we add ATMs in their area or provide additional banking services," Hunt says.

Banks and ATM owners must also update their data when any of their units are undergoing maintenance for a period of time, have moved, or are being replaced, Pappathopoulos says. Even if a bank outsources its ATM locator task to Cardtronics, the bank still has to provide the accurate information on the status of its ATM network.