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by Russell Harty       

    Conceived in 1966, the ATM of today has come a long way since Don Wetzel's first prototype. The fact is, today's automated teller machines have about as much in common with their predecessors as a NASCAR racer has with a Model T. Advances in design and software enhancements, combined with users eager for newer and better applications, are allowing ATMs to do more things in more places than anyone would have thought possible two or three years ago.
    While dispensing cash is still the ATM's primary function, the latest models have gone beyond the role of simple "money machines." More affordable to lease and own, and far more feature-rich than earlier versions, today's ATM is no longer viewed as simply a convenience for bank customers. It's turned into a significant revenue-generator with seemingly endless money-making possibilities � a fact that a broadening range of non-banking businesses are taking advantage of.
    Off-premise ATMs started branching beyond banks somewhat tentatively at first, popping up in supermarkets and convenience stores, where consumers tend to use cash rather than credit. Now they're everywhere: department stores, employee lounges, restaurants and bars, bowling alleys, check cashing establishments�who knows? maybe even the occasional golf course (where bets can be settled quickly).
    As applications increase and the cost of leasing or owning an ATM decreases, the machine no longer requires several hundred transactions a month to pay for itself. In fact, 150 to 200 will do the job; after that, ATM surcharges become an ongoing source of profit.

Looking for the Killer App

    With the advent of Internet capable machines comes the rush to find the "killer app," the one application that will be universal in its appeal. In addition to enhanced cash dispensing features, ATMs are capable of utilizing the Internet to display updated stock quotations, sports scores, news headlines and even winning lottery numbers. But the real value proposition, the one everybody is looking at, is the ATM's potential as a powerful new advertising medium. There is money to be made, and a lot of advertisers already know it.
    Triton recognized this potential "killer app" early on and developed a robust integrated advertising package to tap into it. There are four distinct options for turning our ATMs into advertising vehicles: coupons, decals and signage, transaction screens and "high-toppers" with full-motion video and Internet capabilities. The latter two stand out as excellent methods of getting the most from a single ATM.
   Think about it. ATM users�and those standing in line waiting to use the machine�are a captive audience. Advertising messages displayed on the transaction screen have the user's attention while the transaction is being processed. Though the wait is only a few seconds in duration, that's still plenty of time to make an impression with the message. It's unquestionably one-to-one advertising, but a machine with a lot of traffic can reach a lot of people in a single day.
    Then there's the opportunity offered by full-motion video high-toppers on ATMs. This is potentially an advertiser's dream. People waiting in line and in the general vicinity of the ATM are exposed to the message. If there is indeed a "killer app" on the horizon, we think this may be one of them.

A World of Applications

    There are as many innovative applications for automated teller machines today as there are bill denominations. More, in fact, and more to come. ATMs could provide postcards, interactive marketing and even access to specific data on the Web.
    As user needs multiply, technology races to keep up with demand. Retinal scanning, designed as an alternative to the use of PINs, is one new idea getting a lot of attention. The concept , as yet unproven, is that a customer can walk up to the machine, gaze into a camera, and his/her optical "fingerprint" instantly confirms identity. No numbers to enter (or forget), and no need to ever change the four-digit personal i.d. Early responses to this approach have been somewhat leery, however�a bit too "Big Brother" for some to accept�but you can bet more ways to apply new technology to ATMs will keep developing.
    In terms of how transactions move, middleware providers are getting into the act. Want to buy concert tickets from your nearest ATM? Want to take an account transaction to your online banker? Want to set up a frequency program? The middleware guys can do all that, routing the standard transactions for processing and handling the fancy stuff themselves. The necessary communications are invisible to users. They just know that they're getting all these great services from a single source: their trusty automated teller machine.
    The ATM has become a source of current information, a check-cashing (and other banking services) vehicle, a vending machine, and an advertising medium. In the future, it will be much, much more.
    And isn't it reassuring to know that after 30 years of innovations, the ATM still does what it was originally intended to do? It still doles out cash.

Russell Harty is Directory of US Sales for Triton, the nation's number one manufacturer of off-premise ATMs.
Contact Triton at 800.367.7191 or visit the Triton website at