Wincor Nixdorf is the third-largest supplier of automated teller machines in the world and the second-largest in Europe, but most bankers in the United States have probably never heard of it.
The German company, whose name was changed from the more familiar Siemens Nixdorf at the start of the year, is aiming to raise its profile, however. Its new corporate owners are American, and their goal is to build on the company's 2% share of the U.S. ATM market until it is the nation's second-largest provider.
"Wincor" was attached to Nixdorf to give the company name a more appealing sound for its English-speaking clientele. The name is meant to suggest "winning," as well as a "core" concentration in banking and retail.
"One of the ideas behind our investment in Nixdorf is the possibility to extend the market for Nixdorf products into the United States," said Johannes Huth, managing director in the London office of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., one of the two buyout firms that took over the company Oct. 1. The other firm is GS Capital Partners, the private equity arm of Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Mr. Huth acknowledged that it would take "some time" for Wincor Nixdorf, which is based in the central German city of Paderborn, to overtake Diebold Inc., which has 48% of the U.S. ATM market, or NCR Corp., which has 36%, according to The Nilson Report, an industry newsletter.
Wincor Nixdorf specializes in high-end ATMs with advanced functions that appeal to banks, but most of the market growth has been in low-end ATMs and cash dispensers that appeal to retailers.
Scott Hackl, vice president of sales for Wincor Nixdorf in the United States, said he has products suitable for every ATM deployer but agreed that "cheap equipment is not our goal." He hopes that banks and independent sales organizations, or ISOs, believe in the value of "German pride in workmanship."
"U.S. banks are not known for their technological leadership," Mr. Hackl said. He said his company's technology and machines compare favorably with those of U.S. producers. (Citigroup Inc. - which uses Wincor Nixdorf machines in Europe but produces its own machines in the United States - says its ATMs are better than Wincor Nixdorf's).
The company was founded in 1952 by the German entrepreneur Heinz Nixdorf, who made his corporation Germany's only substantial computer maker. In 1990, four years after Mr. Nixdorf's death, the company was out of money, and Siemens, the electronics giant based in Munich, took it over and established Siemens Nixdorf Informationssysteme.
Siemens managed to improve Nixdorf's sales. By 1993 Nixdorf was generating a profit, but it never achieved the return that Siemens wanted.
Last year Siemens formed a joint venture - Fujitsu Siemens Computers - with the information technology company Fujitsu Ltd. of Japan to make personal computers. European authorities raised antitrust concerns over the new venture, and Siemens decided to solve them by shedding Nixdorf.
The business that was spun off to KKR and Goldman Sachs makes only retail banking products, Mr. Hackl said The new owners will let the company "pursue its line of business much faster" than under the Siemens regime, he said.
Javier Lopez-Bartolome, vice president for sales and a member of the Nixdorf executive board, agreed with this view. "We feel that we have more opportunities now," he said.
KKR - a company that is not known for patience with its investments - wants to take Wincor Nixdorf public within five years. Mr. Huth told the German news magazine Der Spiegel that he expects a 25% return on investment.
Wincor Nixdorf's chances of gaining ground in the United States are good, Mr. Huth said, because it emphasizes open systems. Thus, its hardware can work with all kinds of software.
Its Windows open system architecture has been more important so far in Europe, where banks rely more on self-service, but U.S. banks are becoming more interested in this technology, Wincor Nixdorf executives said.
Wincor Nixdorf executives say they already offer all forms of ATM hardware, including a model that has shown promise in the off-premises retail market: a cash-recycling machine that gives out the bills other customers deposit and therefore does not need to be refilled so often.
Service is a major obstacle. Wincor Nixdorf has few relationships with U.S. banks that its sales staff could rely on and no maintenance network. In Canada and South America, the German ATM developer has a comprehensive service and maintenance contract with International Business Machines Corp.
In the United States, Wincor Nixdorf wants to work through its North America unit in Austin, Tex., and not rely so much on outside help, Mr. Lopez-Bartolome said, though he would not rule out broadening its contract with IBM to cover the United States.
Wincor Nixdorf's main targets are regional banks and ISOs. The company said it wants to build a service network for sales and maintenance by approaching small banks and credit unions. This would let it deliver to smaller territories through its North America unit.
The executives said their extensive experience in Europe gives Wincor Nixdorf the credentials needed to succeed in a market with as much growth potential as the United States.
Without a viable partner to support it in dealing with the U.S. market, however, Wincor Nixdorf would have a hard time gaining ground in the highly competitive field of ATM deployment.
"Nixdorf has done very well abroad," said Les Riedl, a senior vice president at the Atlanta consulting firm Speer & Associates. "But NCR and Diebold own the [U.S.] market, and if you want something else, you can go to Fujitsu."
Though some U.S. ATM makers see the market as saturated, Mr. Riedl said, it does not look that way to everyone. "Every manufacturer of automated teller machines would look at the sheer number of ATMs purchased in the" United States and conclude that there is room to grow, he said.
The Nilson Report said that 50,153 ATMs and cash dispensers were shipped in the United States last year, a 6% increase from 1998, but only 117 by Wincor Nixdorf.
Jay P. Stevens, an analyst at Buckingham Research Group in New York, expressed skepticism about the company's ambitions. "I talked a lot to Siemens Nixdorf but never to Wincor Nixdorf," he said. "I don't know what KKR's strategy really is. If they want to sell ATMs in the United States, why didn't they buy a U.S. manufacturer?
"Look at the nature of the customer," Mr. Stevens said. "Banks are risk-averse. Why would a risk-averse customer step out of the existing network and take a risk?"
The giants of the U.S. ATM business do not seem worried about Wincor Nixdorf.
"Here in the United States, the networks control the application," said Andrew M. Orent, vice president of self-service at NCR's financial solution group in Dayton, Ohio. NCR said it would be hard to replicate its extensive relationships with U.S. banks.
Ken Justice, global marketing director at Diebold of North Canton, Ohio, said banks would be reluctant to embrace a newcomer. "Banks are conservative," he said. "They want to know who they are dealing with, and we have been around for a while."
Wincor Nixdorf's claims of technical superiority are unlikely to win business away from competitors, Mr. Justice said. "Most bankers don't even know what software they use, and they don't care," he said.
When asked what a company would need to do to break into the U.S. ATM market in a big way, Mr. Justice said, "I would hate to have that challenge." He added that a company would need "hardware to fulfill all needs of different banks, machines you only need to plug in, an extensive, dependable, and fast service network." They would also have to "know the bank and act as a consultant for it."