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Banking Mainstay Marks Half a Century

A banking accessory most of us take for granted marked its 50th anniversary this year. The world’s first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) began taking transactions in Enfield, London on June 27, 1967. ATMs have since changed the shape of modern banking and how people access their money.

ATMs have an interesting beginning. Inventor John Shepherd-Barron said he came up with the idea for the device while taking a bath. He had come home from the bank after being turned away because it had just closed.

He pitched the device to British bank Barclays. Barclays accepted the concept immediately, and the first model was built and installed in London in 1967. The first ATM in the U.S. opened at Chemical Bank in Rockville Center, N.Y. in 1969.

Pre-debit cards
The machine predated debit cards, using PIN (Personal Identification Number) codes—a concept Shepherd-Barron also invented. The ATM was also dependent on cards impregnated with the (slightly) radioactive isotope carbon 14 to initiate a withdrawal.

One other difference from its ubiquitous modern counterpart: it didn’t charge a fee like many modern ATMs do. When debit cards became available in the 1970s, ATMs became more consumer-friendly. And when ATMs began to support check deposits in the mid-2000s, it made a big difference in how people look at the ATM. For the first time, many people started thinking about it as more than a cash dispenser.

What the future holds
Since 1967, the ATM has come a long way. There are over 3 million globally and banking customers can complete scores of different transaction using the machines. “We’ve seen a number of disruptive currency propositions being launched in the past few years, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, but these have so far failed to really hit the mainstream,” said Richard Broadbent, the General Manager of Banking at Wincor Nixdorf, a provider of banking hardware. “There remains something very meaningful about having tangible money in our pockets, and physical currency still remains at the center of banking.”

“I don’t see the ATMs heading for retirement any time soon,” Zurawski said. “As well as being ubiquitous and simple to use, some people prefer hard cash as a deliberate way of controlling their spending. It shouldn’t be a surprise that ATMs remain so popular – they’re an incredibly successful piece of social technology. The trend towards regional bank branch closures may put an even greater emphasis on the role of the ATM, including services beyond simple cash withdrawal.”

Richard Harris, vice president of new technology incubation and design at Diebold Nixdorf, a company that has produced ATMs for the last several decades, predicts consumers will use their debit cards at ATMs less, and use their smartphones to access them more.

Looking for an ATM near you? Tower members enjoy access to over 47,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide. Tower-owned ATMs are totally free. At surcharge-free ATMs, the first four transactions each month are free. After that, each transaction is $1.

Resources: TIME, MarketWatch

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