ATMs for the Visually Impaired

Blind people, and people with visual impairments, can go into any bank in the United States and use an automatic teller machine unassisted. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act makes it a requirement that financial institutions be equipped with ATMs for the visually impaired. That’s because, under the law, having to wait in line to speak to a teller and ask for assistance with an ATM machine places an undue burden on visually impaired people. Not to mention, getting a teller’s assistance with an ATM requires customers to say all of their personal banking information out loud. And doing makes the customer vulnerable to thieves and skimmers.

How Are the Visually Impaired Guided Through an ATM Transaction?

ATMs for the Visually Impaired

ATMs for the visually impaired include Braille, both on the keys and Braille instructions. The keys of an ATM are designed in a certain way to assist the blind. Keys are raise, not flat against the keypad. The numbers are set up in a way that makes them easy to find, too. They’re arranged in order – either ascending order or descending order – and the number five has a tiny raised piece on it to help those with visual impairments orient themselves.

Most important, these ATMs “talk”, they deliver through voice recordings all the information that seeing customers read. These pieces of info include:

  • instructions for making transactions
  • error messages
  • the date
  • the time

Visually-impaired people listen to ATM voices through headphones. Banks provide headphones, but in order to avoid germs, customers can bring their own headphones to the bank. (These machines work with most standard versions of headphones and earbuds.) That way, these customers can keep private their personal information, items such as:

  • their monthly bank statements
  • the balances in their various accounts

What’s more, these ATM voices are not simply recordings that are played back at the touch of the button. They are more sophisticated than that. For example, customers can ask that the voice repeat a certain sentence. And some ATMs speak in voices that sound human, as opposed to the emotionless, non-modulated voices of many computers. Customers can adjust the volume of an ATM voice.

How are these ATMs Helpful to Others Not Visually Impaired?

Senior citizens who are not legally blind but who have issues with their eyesight can derive benefit from talking ATMs. That’s because these machines employ contrasting colors to make various keys stand out, making them easier to spot. In fact, everyone is allowed to use a talking ATM. Therefore, you can use one of these machines if you have 20/20 eyesight but you simply do not like to use touchscreens for whatever reason. These machines also provide assistance to people who are illiterate or who have reading disabilities.

History of the Talking ATM

The talking ATM made its public debut at San Francisco City Hall on October 1, 1999. Today, there are more than 100,000 of these machines in operation in the United States, with more coming all the time, and they can be found in nations all over the world. Indeed, they are more affordable now for banks than ever. Some companies that make ATMs even offer trade-in programs, whereby a bank can swap an existing ATM for a talking ATM, and thereby obtain the talking ATM at a reduced rate. Or banks can simply purchase conversion kits for the ATMs they already have; these kits include the voice software that makes the ATMs talk. Banks also have the option of setting up talking ATMs that speak languages in addition to English. Bank of America, to take one example, has owned and operated thousands of bilingual ATMs for almost a decade.

As a final warning, realize that many standalone ATMs – the kind of ATM you find on street corners and inside or outside non-financial institutions like convenience stores – do not talk. But as these ATMs age and are replaced, the financial institutions that operate these machines often replace them with ATMs that do have voice capabilities.

The Origins of the ATM

The Origins of the ATM

How Did the ATM Evolve?

The automatic teller machine is such a common sight nowadays that most people probably take it completely for granted. It might be hard to imagine, then, that there was a time when the only way to withdraw cash from a bank account was to actually go to a bank and speak to a human being.

The ATM was an invention with a long gestation period. The first ATM patent, issued in 1939, was for a version of an ATM that never caught on. A 34-year-old Turkish inventor, photography expert and resident of New York City named Luther Simjian built what he called the “Bankmatic machine” and nicknamed the “hole-in-the-wall machine.” This device was capable of handling a few rudimentary banking transactions. The City Bank of New York, which is now called Citicorp, allowed Simjian to install his invention in one of their branches as an experiment. Very few customers were interested in going near the Bankmatic, however. Simjian observed that only gamblers and prostitutes seemed to want to use the machine. City Bank got rid of the machine six months after it was installed. Simjian went on to develop a number of inventions in a wide variety of fields; he died in 1997.

The late 1960’s were the boom time for ATM inventors. Consider the following developments, all within the span of a few years:

  • In 1965, a British engineer at Smiths Industries began working on a machine with a keypad that could read numbers encrypted on cards. This machine could also dispense pieces of paper, including cash.
  • In 1966, Scottish inventor James Goodfellow patented an ATM that functioned much as ATM’s today function.
  • John Shepherd-Barron, who ran a technology company called De La Rue Instruments, became the primary inventor of an ATM introduced in 1967. This ATM was called the DACS, short for “De La Rue Automatic Cash System.”
  • Reg Varney, a comedic television actor, became the first British citizen to use a DACS machine on June 27, 1967.

Of the inventors listed above, Shepherd-Barron is most widely credited with launching the ATM into public consciousness. But how did Shepherd-Barron come up with this idea?

Professionally, Shepherd-Barron was involved in the printing and transporting of cash; the idea of moving cash from one place to another inside an armored vehicle was one he helped to initiate and promote. Anyway, the story goes that one night in the mid-1960’s, Shepherd-Barron wanted to get some money after work, but the banks were closed. He went home and into his bathtub, still feeling angry because he hadn’t been able to withdraw money. Then the idea hit him: What if there were machines people could access any time of the day or night, machines that would dispense cash and automatically subtract the amount of withdrawal from a customer’s account? Shepherd-Barron went to work right away on the details of just such a machine with a team at De La Rue.

Plenty of issues had to be worked out. For example, there was no such thing as an ATM card in the 1960’s, so early versions of the automatic teller machine would have to read something else in order to identify a customer. The DACS machine read checks stained with carbon 14; the carbon 14 stains identified customers with numbers. (The presence of carbon 14 also made checks radioactive, if only to a tiny degree.) Therefore, Shepherd-Barron is not only an ATM innovator, but also the father of the PIN number as it’s now used in banking. He thought PIN’s should contain six digits, but his wife argued that four-digit PIN’s would work better.

Once the DACS prototype had been created, Shepherd-Barron met with a manager at Barclays, and this manager loved the idea of the automatic teller machine. By the way, Shepherd-Barron never earned anywhere near the money he might have from his work on the ATM, because he never patented the machine. He was concerned that if he patented it, he would have to publicly release all of its technological secrets. Thus, he reasoned, criminals would be able to break into these machines and steal money, rendering them useless.

The DACS machine may have delighted British banking customers, but it had yet to make its grand debut in the banking capital of the world: the United States. How the machine hit the big time in the U.S. is a story of its own, one we will share in the next post.

Where Should I Place My ATM?

Where Should I Place My ATM?

Where Should I Place My ATM

To really maximize the profits you earn from your business’s automatic teller machine, you need to place that machine in the right location. ATM placement is an art, not a science, however, even experts on the topic can sometimes disagree about ATM placement strategies. So consider the following an introduction to the factors that go into this important decision.

First and foremost, your customers won’t want to use your ATM unless they feel safe doing so. Therefore, install your ATM someplace in your business that’s lit brightly, somewhere under the watchful eye of a security camera, perhaps with a visible alarm system within arm’s reach.

You also have to decide whether to install your ATM indoors or outdoors. Outdoor ATM’s can be accessed twenty-four hours a day, of course, but they’re more vulnerable to vandals and thieves. You’ll have to invest in a first-rate (in other words, expensive) security system. There might even be specific safety/security laws in your state and municipality dictating the kinds of security measures you’re required to have in place for an outdoor ATM. In addition, during the day many customers prefer using indoor rather than outdoor ATM’s, as they feel safer doing so. In that regard, you might actually lose some ATM business if you place your automatic teller machine outside.

If you manage a large complex, such as a shopping mall or a resort hotel, then choosing the spot in which to install your ATM becomes significantly more challenging. Many such facilities set up an ATM in the lobby, believing that customers expect to find ATM’s there, and also believing that a lobby is a safe place because it receives so much traffic all day long. And many hotels, malls and even hospitals decide to maintain more than one on-site ATM. For instance, a hotel might find it worth the investment to put an ATM on every floor. If you decide to go this route, it probably makes sense to put the ATM at the same location on each floor – just to the left of the elevator, for instance.

You don’t have to run a business with multiple floors in order to derive benefit from multiple ATM’s, though. Even if you own, for example, a fairly large, one-story convenience store, you might find that if you purchase more than one ATM, and place those ATM’s in opposite sections of your store, those ATM’s will increase your profit margins each month.

One of the longest-running debates when it comes to the placement of ATM’s is this: Should you put an ATM right next to the front door of your establishment? There are passionate advocates on both sides of this argument. Those who say that an ATM should go beside the front door can site statistics indicating that putting an ATM here greatly increases the usage that ATM will get over time. Some studies have even said that an ATM beside the front door gets twice as many transactions as an ATM placed in, say, one of the far corners of a business’s interior.

On the other hand, the case against putting an ATM by the front door is also convincing. First, if you attract lots of customers each day, an ATM next to the door could cause congestion around that door. People lining up here might even block the entrance. And if potential customers walking by on the street see this commotion, they might be discouraged from entering your establishment, thus costing you business. Even worse, a line of customers near your front door might constitute a minor fire hazard, should that line be thick enough. And if your front door is glass, it might be tempting for drug addicts and other amateur robbers to break the glass at night, step inside and try to loot your ATM.

If you have no idea how many ATM’s to buy, or where to place them, you can always contact experts at an ATM consulting service. They’ll be able to analyze your floor plan and your flow of traffic and tell you the best place to put your machine(s).

Mobile ATMs

 Conveniences of a Mobile ATM

Conveniences of a Mobile ATM

A mobile automatic teller machine is an ATM on wheels, one you can rent for a special event such as a county fair, music festival or circus. You could even set up a mobile ATM at a more solemn occasion, such as a graduation or a civic ceremony honoring military veterans. Really, any event at which merchandise is sold or donations are collected – that is, any occasion at which attendees might suddenly realize they need extra cash – is an event that can benefit from the presence of a mobile ATM.

Mobile ATMs usually use wireless technology –not telephone lines – to send and receive information about customer accounts, so they know how much cash they can dispense to various individuals. Sometimes these ATMs do require a power source, however, so make sure you have an extra electrical cord handy, one that will be long enough.

Increasing Your Business

In fact, so many mobile ATMs have been appearing at large and small events in recent years that many attendees come to rely on them. Some people are loath to carry more cash than is absolutely necessary. In many cases, these people figure that if they see souvenirs or other items at an event that appeals to them, or to their children, they can simply head to a mobile ATM and get the funds to buy those products. Therefore, if you do not have a mobile ATM at your event, you will lose out on all of that business. In addition, customers with easy access to cash tend to stay at events longer, and in the process, of course, spend more money. Furthermore, if your event relies on third-party vendors, you want to make sure those vendors make as much money as they possibly can, lest they decide not to return to the event the following year. On top of all that, it can be easier and faster for customers to pay with cash at outdoor events than with personal checks or credit cards. And when cash is used, event organizers do not have to worry about checks that bounce, and you and your vendors are not responsible for credit card processing fees. (In fact, many event vendors refuse to accept any credit cards.)

Safety and Weather Concerns

Mobile ATMs are designed with customer safety as a top priority. They come with bright overhead lights to ward off criminals who would lurk in the shadows, and sometimes they include visible security cameras as well. As the planner of an event, you can further increase your mobile ATM customers’ feelings of security by putting the machine right in the middle of the action – in an area that you know will be heavily-trafficked, as this placement will certainly discourage would-be thieves as well.

One especially helpful feature about mobile ATMs is that event planners don’t have to worry about the weather when they order them. Mobile ATMs, just like the stationary ATMs you find out on the streets, are built rugged, more than able to withstand all kinds of weather conditions, including driving rain and heavy snow. They are water-resistant, too, and usually they include advanced temperature control systems to heat them up or cool them off as conditions require. If the weather is going to be horrendous, however, you could always elect to set up a mobile ATM indoors.

Choosing a Rental Company

When you’re looking for a mobile ATM rental company to patronize, look for a company offering the following:

  • strong encryption measures to safeguard passwords and user data – triple encryption is recommended
  • excellent references
  • at least several years of experience
  • signs that will guide customers to the mobile ATM

ATM Robberies

ATM Robberies

You Can Never Be to Cautious

Generally speaking, automatic teller machines are very safe to use, and there’s no reason to be alarmed at the prospect of getting robbed at an ATM. Still, it always makes sense to be cautious. First, you be aware of the four different categories of ATM robbery.

  1.  A robber approaches a person using an ATM and forces this victim to remove cash and give it to him.
  2.  A robber orders a victim to give him his ATM card and PIN number, so that the robber may withdraw cash from an ATM on his own. This kind of robbery, of course, could occur far away from an actual ATM.
  3. A robber stakes out a particular ATM. Then, when someone withdraws money from that ATM, the robber follows her, and at some point demands that she give him that amount of money.
  4.  A robber abducts someone and brings that person to an ATM so the victim can withdraw cash and hand it over. This is the rarest kind of ATM robbery.

If someone brandishes a weapon, or even suggests that he has a weapon on his person, and orders you to take money out of your ATM and give it to him, or to give him your ATM card and PIN number, you should never try to fight back. Keep in mind that about 15% of ATM robbery victims are injured, and injuries most often occur when victims resist their robbers. Remember, too, that the average ATM robber only gets away with about one or two hundred dollars, as so many ATM robbers are drug addicts who just want some money to get their fix. That’s a sum of money for which it’s certainly not worth risking injury or worse. You should also refrain from trying to run away or trying to somehow outsmart a robber. Instead, follow the robber’s instructions until this person is out of sight, and then contact the police immediately. If you can, try to remember exactly what the robber and the robber’s vehicle – if there is one – look like so you can give accurate descriptions to the police.

At some point in the 2000’s decade, an urban legend about ATM robberies began to circulate, and this information was widely spread via email. It said that if you are being robbed at an ATM, you should enter your PIN number backwards, as when you do that, an ATM will dispense the amount of money you ask for, but at the same time it will alert police officers that a crime is taking place at that exact location. It’s not clear precisely how or where this rumor got started, but it is not true. Entering your ATM PIN number backwards accomplishes nothing, and the delay for cash may anger your robber. So don’t fall for this hoax if you hear it for yourself sometime.

Much of the information we have about the frequency of ATM robberies comes from surveys done by the major banks. These surveys tell us that the rate of crimes occurring at ATM’s is low: a crime happens about one time for every million to three and a half million times that customers use ATM’s. Now, it might be common sense, but standalone ATM’s – ATM’s which are not located inside banks or other premises which are guarded – are much more likely to be robbed. Drive-through ATM’s are also, statistically speaking, safer from robberies than the kind you walk up to. And most ATM robberies occur at night – specifically, between the hours of midnight and four in the morning.

If you want to use an outdoor walk-up ATM in a place where no police officers or security guards seem to be around, try to find one that’s well-it, on a street where plenty of people are walking by and hanging around. Take a good look around before you go up to an ATM too, as most ATM robbers will wait until a victim takes her or his cash out before making a move. And if you are ever robbed at an ATM, you should contact your bank to let them know as soon as you possibly can – but be sure to call the police first!