BANKING by machine isn't just for busy urbanites. Across the world - from the backwaters of Missouri's Ozarks to the bicycle-jammed villages of mainland China, cash machines are changing the way the world handles money. ATMs (automated teller machines) are springing up everywhere: office, factory, movie theater, post office, supermarket, casino, county fair. And they do more than dispense money: You can pay loans, buy bus tickets, and register for college classes - all using a plastic card.
``Our basic thrust is to give the people what they want,'' says Don Isaacs, executive vice president of Boston's BayBanks Inc., which owns more than 1,200 machines scattered across Massachusetts. ``We hit 'em where the people are,'' he says. BayBanks sees new opportunities in subway stops, retail centers, and low-income areas. Some machines dispense $100 bills.
Many ATMs dispense more than cash. Customers can use their cards to get bus tickets in Portland, Ore., travelers' checks in Los Angeles, and postage stamps in Pittsburgh and Seattle. Machines at casinos give out scrip (bucks for betting).
Drive-ups are the fastest-growing spots for ATMs sold in the United States, says David Sacco, marketing director for self-service systems at NCR Corporation in Dayton, Ohio, largest ATM distributor worldwide. Overseas markets are expanding rapidly, too; NCR has installed machines in Europe, Hong Kong, and 300 in China.
That's not all. Mobile ATMs - ``a branch on wheels'' - are the rage in the Southwest and other rural areas, says Robert Barone, CEO of Diebold Inc., in Canton, Ohio, which supplies more than half the machines used in the US. These vans simply pull into small towns on specific weekdays, or travel to big events that will last a few days and draw big crowds, like county fairs, sporting events, and hot air balloon festivals.
Getting cash at the workplace is becoming more common, Mr. Barone says. Some machines can cash paychecks.
Though supermarkets and convenience stores are the most popular off-site locations, Mr. Barone says that is changing: ``Low-cost cash dispensers are beginning to pop up in fast food locations, at McDonald's on the New Jersey Turnpike.'' Diebold even has machines on Navy battleships and college campuses.
ATMs also give out bank statements and check-clearing updates (find out if your rent check bounced), accept mortgage payments, and pay bills. Banks purchase and maintain the machines on- and off-site.
An ATM costs between $30,000 and 50,000; constructing an off-site building costs the same (leasing the site is extra).
The first ATM was used in Japan in 1966, according to the Nilson Report. Philadelphia opened America's first in 1968.
Worried about displacing tellers? Don't: More than 400,000 are still at work in the US. But banking by machine is cheaper - 60 to 70 cents per transaction - compared with $1.00 to $1.20 for an in-person transaction, estimates Diebold's Mr. Sacco.