OPINION

ATMs celebrate an anniversary this month

Arvid Huismanhuismaniowa@msn.com

If you grew up in a tiny farm town without a bank in the 1960s you learned to plan ahead financially. If you were a teenager and needed cash for a date, you (a) drove to the town where your bank was located and wrote a check for cash; (b) filled your gas tank at the local gas station for $3.75 and wrote a check for $10.00 or (c) you wrote a check for cash at a friendly local store.

I write from a position of familiarity on this issue.

After I left home I spent a few years in our county seat which had two banks. In 1974 my wife and I moved to what seemed like the big city of Sioux City.

When I opened a checking account at one of the larger banks in town they offered me a cash card. I had never heard of such.

With your cash card you could go to any one of the bank’s several branches, stick the card in a large machine and withdraw cash from your account. And you could do that any time of the day or night and on any day of the week. What a convenience.

I learned later that the cash dispenser was called an ATM – automated teller machine. Initially the ATM offered only cash withdrawals but a short time later new terminals at the bank locations offered withdrawals as well as the ability to make a deposit and check the balance of your account.

The cash card was replaced with a piece of plastic called a debit card, which eventually could be used like a credit card at most businesses.

Four decades later I remain a fan of ATMs and debit cards.

I read recently that the first ATM made its public debut in September 1969 at Chemical Bank in Rockville Center, New York.

Several inventors are credited with early versions of cash-dispensing machines. Most of the credit for ATMs as we know them, however, is given to Don Wetzel, an executive at a company that developed automated baggage-handling equipment. He is reported to have conceived the idea while waiting in line at a bank.

As I had discovered in Sioux City in 1974, the ATM that started it all five years earlier could only dispense cash. The multiple-function ATM was introduced in 1971 but it apparently took a while for it to reach Siouxland.

ATMs are no longer limited to banks and can be found in convenience stores, supermarkets and even cruise ships. If you ever travel to Antarctica you will find an ATM at McMurdo Station.

With more than a million ATMs around the world it is reported that a new one is installed every five minutes.

We consumers were riled in the 1990s when banks began charging fees to use their ATMs. Many banks responded by partnering with other banks in their region to offer customers free ATM access within their network.

As with any good thing, the bottom feeders of society found ways to use ATMs to steal money. Banks have responded by installing surveillance cameras, reflective mirrors and other crime-fighting devices.

Consumers have become savvier by better protecting their personal identification numbers (PIN) and being more discrete and aware when using an ATM.

My family was heading out-of-town for an event and stopped at our neighborhood bank branch in Sioux City to withdraw some cash. Someone was using the ATM so I waited in the car, assuming he would be finished shortly.

After about five minutes my patience wore out and I entered the ATM lobby. The young man at the ATM was an acquaintance and I saw that he was attempting to deposit a large quantity of coins. ATMs are not made for depositing coins.

“I think that would work better if you deposited coins with a live teller,” I volunteered, trying to mask my incredulity.

“Yeah,” the young man said dejectedly, “this ain’t working too well.”

He gave up on the task; I made a quick withdrawal and moved on.

ATMs are a wonderful convenience, but you have to be smarter than the machine for them to work well.

Happy 46th Birthday to the ATM!

(Arvid Huisman can be contacted at huismaniowa@msn.com. ©2015 by Huisman Communications.)