March 31, 2005

Though ATMs were first introduced in the '70s, today, most banks still rely on pretty much the same technology, which offers hard-to-read text menus, limited account information and slow processing times. But Wells Fargo Bank is changing all that.

In February, the San Francisco-based bank completed a four-year project to Web-enable every one of its more than 6,200 ATMs. It also equipped the machines with voice instructions in English and Spanish for the visually impaired.

With the implementation, Wells Fargo ($428 billion in assets) is far ahead of most banks in terms of ATM technology, according to industry consultants contacted by BS&T. While many machines have received security upgrades and some include imaging capabilities, most ATMs still offer little to the customer in the way of service technologies.

According to Tim Sloane, director of the debit advisory practice for Mercator Advisory Group (Shrewsbury, Mass.), 90 percent of today's machines use basically the same technology that existed 10 years ago. Advanced ATMs, he adds, tend to be limited to locations that offer a specific opportunity (see related case study, page 38), rather than across entire fleets. The Wells Fargo deployment is the exception.

Building on its strategy to provide customers with self-service capabilities through a variety of channels - including the Web, call center and ATM - Wells Fargo took an aggressive technology approach. "This is the face of our bank to many of our customers," says Jonathan Velline, the bank's SVP of ATM banking. "In the late 1990s, we recognized that the [then-prevailing] ATM technology was limiting the services that we could offer to our customers."