<p>WASHINGTON – Ben Psillas, president of fledgling surcharge-free ATM network ATM National, said he was surprised by the initial credit union reaction when news of his company’s emergence first broke last year. “When we came out with the initial press release we were hit with `hey you’re competing with the CO-OP (Network).’ Really the discussions we’ve had since then have been about how we can partner rather than be a competitor,” said Psillas. Psillas said comparing ATM National with the CO-OP, CU24 or any other credit union network is like comparing apples and oranges. ATM National is looking to aggregate ATMs from large national banks, said Psillas, and make those ATMs available surcharge-free to credit union members. Its goal is not to aggregate credit union ATMs – he said ATM National will leave that to the likes of the CO-OP. The other key said Psillas is credit unions don’t have to drop out of their credit union networks to join ATM National. “The easy way of explaining this is when a credit union member goes to a big bank deployer’s ATM, the member pays a surcharge. Through ATM National the credit union is actually paying for the cardholder to go to those ATMs and pay no surcharge,” said Psillas. So in essence said Psillas, credit unions can not only have access to no-surcharge ATMs through the CO-OPs of the world, but to big banks’ vast ATM networks as well through ATM National. When a credit union joins ATM National it pays a user fee based on its number of debit cardholders (debit cards being the means of access to the ATMs). He said a single debit cardholder can use a participating ATM 20 times a day, and the cost remains the same for the credit union (aside from increased interchange fees). Make no mistake about it, credit unions are ATM National’s prime targets, said Psillas. He believes credit unions are the perfect market for ATM National because of their scattered members. “I guess the biggest reason is there are so many credit unions today that have members over a large geographic base, so a nationwide surcharge-free network is a huge value-add,” he said. The other side to that, said Psillas, is smaller CUs which are looking to quickly get an ATM presence for their members, which they can’t afford to build on their own. The company’s goal is to have 30,000 no-surcharge ATMs spread throughout the country. So how is it doing? It recently announced that it has partnered with two major banks, though Psillas would not reveal which ones; that have added 13,000 ATMs to its network, 17,000 short of its goal. ATM National has also signed up a number of financials as network participants. Collectively these financials represent 2.4 million debit cardholders. The big question is how many of the new financial clients are credit unions. While ATM National is not revealing its client list at this point, it’s clear from Psillas’ wording that credit unions represent the largest percentage of the clients. He would only say that the number of credit union clients so far is around 20. “We have several Top 100 credit unions that have signed up, as well as some mid-sized and smaller credit unions,” he said. ATM National has also had discussions with the CO-OP about the possibility of partnering, though Psillas wouldn’t say if those talks went anywhere. CO-OP Network President/CEO Bob Rose said the CO-OP has been monitoring ATM National, but up until this point didn’t see much progress. Rose, who was traveling when he spoke with Credit Union Times, said he was unaware of the ATM National announcement, but that as of now there are no plans to partner. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen. Rose said like any deal CO-OP makes if it made sense geographically in terms of ATM placement, CO-OP would consider it. When told that there were some large CUs joining ATM National, Rose said that CO-OP has almost half of the Top 100 CUs as members, so that would not be a deciding factor. He did say that if a significant number of CUs were interested in ATM National, CO-OP would look more closely at them. “I think we’re building up a large geographic footprint at this time. If you asked me this question (whether to partner with ATM National) three years ago, it might have made more sense,” he said. With just two big banks, ATM National has 13,000 available ATMs. To put that in perspective, CO-OP, with hundreds of CU members, has about 14,000 ATMs. That’s the power of big bank deployers, said Psillas. He said big bank ATM deployers are attracted to the model, because foreign ATM transaction volume is virtually flat right now, so while banks aren’t getting surcharge revenue from cardholders of ATM National financials, they are getting a slice of the fees those financials are paying to ATM National. “They’re really getting it all back (the surcharge revenue) by the credit unions paying for access,” he said. There’s another potential win for the big banks that credit unions may not like. Psillas said members will see the bank as the place to get no-surcharge ATMs and possibly do other business with the bank because of it. Credit unions that participate will not see their CU’s name on the bank’s ATM, but rather an ATM National logo (that is still being developed) that lets them know it is a no-surcharge ATM they can use. ATM National is privately funded. Psillas said it is well capitalized for its mission, but did not give specific financials. Its two vendor partners are EDS and Diebold, two big names that have made the sales process easier, said Psillas. [email protected]</p>

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