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Is your ATM strategy internally focused or customer-led?

Which factors most frequently determine a Bank’s ATM self-service strategy?
a. Customer needs identified through robust research?
b. Multi-channel customer strategy?
c. Operational servicing model choice?
d. Banking innovation and competitive pressure?
e. Available industry functionality in hardware and software?
f. Bank cost agenda?
g. Technical limitations of the Bank’s current systems?
h. Bank appetite for change?

While any of these answers may be the one that is close to the hearts of anyone working in banking automation and self-service, there is no single right answer and certainly no one definitive answer. Each financial services provider is different - yet most are the same in one regard: ATM strategy is internally focused. Intuitively, most of us might answer f) bank cost agenda g) technical limitations of the bank’s systems and/or h) bank appetite for change, but perhaps we would want be able to answer a) customer needs identified through robust research b) multi-channel customer strategy and/or c) operational servicing model choice instead.

Why is this the case? Why does ATM often lag behind other more junior channels (telephony, internet and mobile banking) in its customer focus, strategy and functionality, when for many banks it remains the most frequent customer touchpoint?

Certainly, the ATM channel does not lack e) industry functionality in hardware and software, with manufactures showcasing new technologies each year. Yet, there remain few examples of UK banks adopting “leading edge” technology at scale or live-trialing the “bleeding edge” functionalities available. The reason behind this may lie in the inertia of internal focus and specifically operational, technical internal focus. The result of which is that members of our industry are more likely to know how many transactions an estate processed last month, than whether their customers place more value on queue time, functionality or safety. The old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” perhaps being replaced by “if you don’t know what to change or why, it’s less risky and costly to change nothing.”

Feeding the inertia of no change, the ATM channel seems to be suffering from a similar neglect that bank branches received in the 1990s and first decade of the millennium. The UK has some of the oldest ATMs you can see anywhere in the world, many running on legacy systems. Where else in your daily life can you use technology that is still running Windows XP? The ATM represents a large, existing and continuous operational cost to a bank, and while annual investment costs are high (for compliance and maintenance), there is chronic under-investment in improvement in customer service and customer experience.

To redress the absence of customer focus, it would help for ATMs to have a customer champion within the bank, outside operations and technology teams, ideally within marketing. The champion would be responsible for self-service strategy as part of customer and channel strategies and recognise the power of the ATM channel in terms of reach and frequency of message. Without an ATM customer champion, purchasing and change decisions will continue to be made and budgets prioritized according to operational priorities, cost and risk reduction factors. A good example of this is why UK ATMs have not historically delivered audio functionality for visually impaired customers. The functionality has been around for well over a decade (and could have been implemented many times over within estate infrastructure renewal programmes) but it would have taken a customer champion to vote for and justify this non-mandatory change (or indeed any other customer experience improvement) when it was discussed in prioritisation meetings.

Interestingly, the oversight of the potential power of ATMs as a customer channel means that few are likely to have chosen d) Banking innovation and competitive pressure, as an answer to the question at the beginning of this piece. It is hard to imagine a UK bank running a television advert like Chase did in the USA a few years ago, leading on its current (or checking) account with cash deposit functionality on ATM. Perhaps in the future self-service automation may become an element of the competitive mix between the UK banks? That however would require a level of ATM customer understanding not widely possessed. Which begs the question, if the ATM channel is not a source of competitive differentiation in the eyes of the bank, why not let f) bank cost agenda lead the way and consolidate estates across UK Banks to increase efficiency? It is interesting therefore that a common answer to such a proposition is that it would reduce a bank’s ability to offer its customers what they really want.


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