Coming Soon to an ATM Near You

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

From The Boston Herald

Coming Soon to an ATM Near You

June 17, 2000

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Even as you are reading this, some poor soul is being forced to watch a movie preview on an ATM.

In California and Arizona, Wells Fargo Bank has just introduced a number of new "enhanced" ATMs that are capable of showing commercials. Why anyone would want to watch commercials on an ATM is beyond me, but Wells Fargo is betting that this will be the Next Big Thing in the world of banking.

FleetBoston Financial Group is testing a similar idea in New York City where customers will be offered two-minute snippets of Broadway musicals on ATM screens.

As you can imagine, New England banks are watching all these developments very closely. If this works in California and New York, your corner ATM may soon become enhanced as well.

But if you ask me, this doesn't sound like good news.

For now, the machines only show videos and news headlines, but soon Wells Fargo plans to connect most of their machines to the Internet.

Over the next few years, the bank hopes to provide many other services including stock trading and Web surfing. Eventually, you may even be able to purchase concert tickets and other items from an ATM.

Wait a second. We'll be able to make PURCHASESat the ATM? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the whole point of going to an ATM was to come back with money.

As it is now, most of the money I withdraw vanishes almost instantaneously anyway.

Really, the last thing I need is the ability to make purchases at the ATM. At least now, I'm able to take solace in the fact that I can usually make it about 15 feet away before spending all my money. But what will happen when I can spend money without even leaving bank property?

Please, let's not allow spending to become that easy and convenient.

And am I alone in worrying that the only things these enhanced ATMs will end up enhancing are ATM fees?

"Well, all these new machines cost money, sir, so that's why we had to charge you the $ 9.95 ATM fee."

With bank fees becoming more commonplace, I don't want my bank making even more money off me by forcing me to watch advertisements while waiting for my cash.

After all, I'm the one lending my money to them, and I would rather not have to watch a commercial in order to get it back. It is one thing to watch a commercial during "ER." In that case, I am choosing to watch the commercial (unless I choose to go into the kitchen for a snack). At the ATM, however, we will have no choice but to watch the advertisements.

Still, you have to give Wells Fargo credit. Somehow, they have found a way to combine two major trends of recent times - the trend to display advertisements in every public spot imaginable and the trend to hook up just about everything we possibly can to the Internet.

When you think about it, what could be more in synch with our times than using an ATM and the Internet to show commercials?

Of course, banks seem to be forgetting the very reason people like ATMs.

Instant money. Most of us don't want any special services. We just want to be shown the money. Already, the person who takes too long to make a withdrawal gets dirty looks (and then there's the fellow who insists on depositing his pay check and checking his bank balance).

Imagine how much worse those looks will become when someone takes an extra 45 seconds to watch a movie preview.

"Oh, I'm almost done. I just want to watch the rest of this preview."

I sincerely doubt that anyone wants to hear that while waiting in line at the ATM.

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