NCR Corp., one of the two largest ATM manufacturers, is hard at work on a prototype ATM that it hopes will enable financial institutions to better reach out to underserved populations and help bring ATMs up to a new standard.
The trend among industrialized world ATM deployers has been toward ATMs steadily doing more like imaging deposits, cross selling other products or services, selling stamps and tickets, or paying bills. And, in general, U.S consumers have largely resisted these trends, declining to pay bills or buy stamps and often feeling annoyed at advertisements that keep them from receiving their money quickly.
But Lyle Sander, NCR's vice president of design and consumer experience, said the firm's new prototype “pillar ATM” will reverse many of these trends, taking no deposits, not really selling anything else and not having screens to market anything. It won’t even have a keypad for the ubiquitous PIN.
“One of the most fun things about my job is that I get to envision very common, widespread things in their most simplified form,” Sandler said. “In this case, how to design an ATM which will be accessible to the largest percentage of people around the world in the most secure way and at the lowest cost.”
Where a traditional ATM has screens and a keypad, the pillar ATM relies on a biometric thumb scan and pre-set denomination buttons or interface with a mobile phone for authentication and instructions. Where a traditional ATM requires a card for access, the pillar-ATM does not and where a new, multifunction ATM can costs tens of thousands of dollars, Sandler said NCR is aiming for the pillar ATM to come at the lower end of the price spectrum because screens, check imaging hardware, keypads (and need for keypad encryption) and other elements tend to add to both initial and ongoing machine costs.
Sandler said NCR had been thinking about a redesign of the ATM to match the needs of different populations around the world for over five years, looking at consumer answers from consumer questions as varied as whether or not they would use an ATM at all to whether or not their clothes have any pockets (in which they could carry an ATM card, for example.)
The surveys and other research revealed that basic literacy and literacy about financial services was a significant problem in other countries and markets and that in many parts of the world many more people have mobile phones than have bank accounts, Sandler said.
These findings helped lead to the pillar ATM having buttons that are colored or otherwise marked to demonstrate the currency denomination in order to accommodate users who could not even read numbers. And the lack of pockets helped lead to the use of biometrics, which also helped the machines offer more secure transactions.
Sandler said the pillar ATMs will also have the ability to interface with mobile phones that will allow mobile phone users to use a mobile phone app to plan more complex ATM transactions without having to actually touch the ATM.
Sandler said NCR was resisting characterizing the pillar ATM as an ATM for the illiterate or less literate, acknowledging that doing so could lead to some people not wanting to use it in the U.S. and other developed economies. Instead, Sandler said he and his team have focused on the notion of creating an ATM for everyone, one that every person could use without barriers and he noted that, to that end, the machines in the first world will also be fully compliant with disability access laws.
Currently, the company is beta testing the new machine with select financial institutions around the country, and Sandler hopes to have the company begin to sell them in different markets in the next 18 months to two years. Despite the machine's unfamiliar appearance, Sandler said consumer reaction to it so far has been very positive, accepting and excited.
Sandler contended that while NCR's most obvious and immediate market for the pillar ATM would be overseas, the machine would also interest any financial institution, such as credit unions, which sought to bring ATM service to lower income and underserved areas at a lower cost.