ATM Eight Meditations Hero

01. Hole In The Wall

I’m fond of technologies that become so obvious, so useful in our lives that we stop thinking about them. The Automated Teller Machine (ATM) is one such device. Seriously, when did one last cross your thoughts? Maybe when you used one – though if you believe the news, that was a long time ago. Or perhaps when UK bank Barclays decided to rename all their ATMs as “holes in the wall,” a linguistic innovation that didn’t catch on.

02. No Money Until Monday

It’s rare to have the moment when the idea for a new technology arrived accurately recorded, but the ATM is one innovation where the creation myth is complete. John Shepherd-Barron was walking down the street in Dorking, a small town in the south of the UK, on a Saturday morning in 1967. On a mission to reach the bank, to draw out pocket money for his son, he arrived at midday – and the doors shut in his face. No money until Monday. What to do? Shepherd-Barron came up with an idea for a machine that could deliver banknotes, 24/7.

03. Bank Card No More

Soon, inserting your bank card won’t be the only way to access your money from a cash machine: Barclays is rolling out contactless card ATMs in the UK. Meanwhile in the US, Citibank is trialling a machine with no screen at all. How do you get your dollars? By having your retina scanned. Slightly less creepy is the miniature ATM, developed by Diebold – just 1.5 times the width of a dollar bill. Less a hole, more a sliver in the wall.

04. Original Mobile Banking

There’s something romantic about the notion of an ATM on the back of a truck. Long before “mobile banking” described moving money on your phone, it meant putting a branch on wheels to reach those living in rural areas who otherwise might not get access to banking services. You can still find some of these ATMs on wheels today: Royal Bank of Scotland has a mobile branch that travels through the Scottish Highlands on a set schedule , while the Bank of Bird-In-Hand (the best name for a bank ever) in rural Pennsylvania has a 29-foot long “bankmobile,” complete with full ATM, to serve its customers in the Amish community.

05. Around The World

Just because you think the ATM is old fashioned, doesn’t mean it isn’t popular. There are 3.2 million cash machines around the world, 600,000 of those in Europe alone, and installations are rising in the BRIC countries. For many people they still remain the main physical interface they might have with their bank. Four out of five people still say that they are convenient to use.

06. Gold Diggers

While the ATM might have been invented in the UK, the cutting edge of what you can do via the machine is to be found elsewhere. Fancy buying lottery tickets, or tickets to football matches? You can at ATMs in the US and Spain, respectively. Or if you need to pay stamp duty on a property, you can do that at Hong Kong ATMs. And if you’re in the market for gold bars, there’s a hole in the wall – mine in the wall? – in Dubai that will sort you out.

07. Live Made Easier

You’re probably thinking that the ATM, like the cash it dispenses, is due to go the way of the dodo – and soon. But don’t be so sure about either of those things happening. There are still over 70,000 cash machines in the UK, and the annual average value of cash withdrawn from them in the UK is £194bn. There’s still life to be found in the hole in the wall. Why? As the plaque next to the first one, in Enfield, north London says: “The world’s first cash machine was installed here on 27 June 1967. Lives made much easier.”

08. Branch In A Box

For a technology supposedly on the way out, there’s a lot of thought going into what an ATM of the future might look like. NCR, one of the biggest makers of cash machines, clearly has a vested interest in them surviving, but the “branch in a box” concept it rolled out in 2017 shows that with touch screen technology, video calling and location-enabled services, you can do 80% of what you might do in a branch, out of hours.

Photo by Phu Cuong Pham on Unsplash