Thursday, April 22, 2021

Reimagining the ATM: From Cash-out to Curbside Banking

by Bill Maurer, UC Irvine and Kate Larson, Kate Larson Writes, LLC with Filene's Center of Emerging Technology

With so many options for ATM service delivery, how can credit union leaders make wise decisions to meet their members’ needs? Set against the backdrop of rapidly changing consumer behavior and expectations during COVID-19, this report explores the past, present, and future of the unpretentious automatic teller machine—and how its evolution impacts credit union strategy today.

Image Credit: Filene


As our financial lives increasingly take up residence online, the ATM may be one of the last physical touchpoints between credit unions and their members. This creates a key opportunity for credit unions to delight members, provide convenience, and create a consistent brand experience across channels. But ATMs can also be an institutional pain point. As physical machines in dispersed locations, they require ongoing maintenance, upgrades, and replacement. Because ATMs touch nearly every part of a credit union’s operations, it can be difficult to view the full impact of an aging fleet, a new strategy, or a potential partnership. Faced with this mix of obstacle and opportunity, how can credit union leaders make the best decisions for their organizations?


In the wake of the social and economic changes wrought by COVID-19, ATMs have become an essential way for credit unions to provide members access to cash, deposits, and assistance. Tracing the history of the ATM from early twentieth-century agricultural shows to our pandemic-constrained present reveals a technology that is both deep-rooted and innovative. 

While ATMs may not seem particularly groundbreaking, they have extended the reach of most financial institutions far beyond their branches—and they may provide a blueprint for how credit unions can rethink those branches entirely. We spoke to leaders from credit unions and supporting organizations about their ATM experiences, challenges, successes, and strategies and drew from those insights to offer recommendations and a roadmap for success.


ATMs are one piece of a member’s full experience with the credit union and should be viewed in that context. Serving as a billboard, a marketing opportunity, and (hopefully) a positive interaction between member and institution, an ATM transaction can leave the member feeling satisfied, or frustrated by a machine that is laggy, limited, or out of service. Credit unions have a variety of options for offering ATM services to members, from owning and servicing their own machines, to partnering with a third- party provider, to joining a shared network, and some organizations may choose several of these. Because any approach will have benefits and drawbacks, each organization must define what success will look like before pursuing a new ATM strategy.

Finally, credit unions should beware of chasing after shiny technology and instead seek to understand their members’ unique needs and preferences in order to design a compatible and accessible ATM experience. But there is plenty of emerging technology to get excited about: contactless payments may render the plastic ATM card extraneous, and open-source software could simplify future upgrades. 

Making decisions about ATMs may never be easy, but given the variety of available choices, credit union leaders can and should find opportunities to generate value for their members.

Link to download report and summary slides.

Link to Infographic: Strategic Contexts for ATMS by Melissa K. Wrapp, PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, UC Irvine

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