Cardless ATMs and disappointing mobile wallet adoption

While I’m an outspoken advocate of financial services technology, I have been a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to mobile wallets. My skeptical attitude reached an apex when I dropped my smartphone in a glass of merlot several years ago and hasn’t recovered. Had my smartphone been my mobile wallet, embarrassment would have been the least of my problems. Said simply, I just don’t see a compelling use-case for most consumers. Until they arise, I expect industry press to continue to publish stories of lackluster adoption. There have been many. One in particular caught my eye. A recent article in Digital Transactions makes my point in its opening statement, “The introduction of cardless ATMs, which rely on a financial institution’s mobile wallet instead of a debit card to make an ATM withdrawal, could help further the adoption of mobile wallets and mobile payments.” Said another way, if the industry offers consumers enough reasons to configure and use a mobile wallet, adoption may eventually result. This doesn’t sound remotely compelling to me. I can hear the rebuttals now. In defense of Bank of America, BMO Harris, Chase, Peoples Bank and other institutions that have invested in cardless ATM access, physical debit card usage at the ATM could pose an annoyance to mobile wallet adopters, few that they are. With ATM usage roughly twice the customer penetration of mobile banking (below), the last thing banks need is a reason for customers to be dissatisfied with their ATM experience. In my opinion, that’s a more compelling rational for investment than some vein attempt to bolster mobile wallet adoption.

US P12M Channel Usage 2014Source: Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2015, U.S. Federal Reserve, March 2015

In the article, one banker summed up the challenge associated with mobile cash access this way: “We found the biggest struggle is explaining what it is and the benefit it offers.” If the biggest struggle is communicating a compelling value proposition, then maybe the value proposition isn’t compelling. I don’t think it is – at least not yet. Please don’t misunderstand, I think cardless cash ATM access is a reasonable initiative, but not for the reason stated in the article. I applaud efforts to better integrate retail delivery channels, and ATM cash access is a baby step in that direction. Combine cardless ATM access with other capabilities such as broader P2P payment mechanisms, geo-location and a merchant-funded rewards program, and mobile wallets begin to look compelling. Until then, banks have a bevy of higher priority initiatives to deliver in my opinion. But, even if my bank enabled cardless cash access, I still wouldn’t abandon my physical wallet. In the event of another tragic merlot mishap, traditional ATM cash access might be a real life-saver.

NCR Acquires Digital Insight – What’s Next?

NCR announced yesterday that it is acquiring Digital Insight for $1.65 billion. This is a rather quick “flip” for private equity firm Thoma Bravo, as they purchased Digital Insight from Intuit for $1.03 billion this past summer. The move makes a lot of sense for a firm like NCR. However, I am left scratching my head as to why they didn’t purchase Digital Insight from Intuit a few months ago. Was Intuit in a rush to sell of the Digital Insight assets? Was NCR not ready or not aware that Digital Insight was for sale? There are some unanswered questions here that don’t add up. They add up however for Thoma Bravo as a quick $620 million is nothing to sneeze at! The acquisition presents several opportunities and challenges. Opportunities:
  • NCR is aiming to become a fintech powerhouse. Yes, NCR is already a large player. However this acquisition allows them to expand further into digital banking . We have seen similar stories with ACI’s acquisition of S1 and Online Resources, D&H’s acquisition of Harland, Fiserv’s acquisition of Open Solutions, etc. This is the next wave of solution providers competing on digital and multichannel banking. In other words, there is plenty of opportunity for banks to look beyond the classic core banking providers for online and/or mobile banking. 
  • NCR will be able to focus on multichannel banking and cross-selling their solutions. Online, mobile, ATM, branch transformation – these are all areas that NCR can zone in on. Not to mention that the firm has a multichannel marketing solution. Both firms have solid client bases that can be tapped into.
  • NCR already has digital banking solutions. The firm will now add a host of new and modern solutions to their digital banking arsenal. The Digital Insight assets will allow NCR to become a more significant player in the online and mobile banking space.
  • Digital Insight can’t afford to be in limbo for so long. The firm has been caught up in the M&A doldrums for quite some time, starting from when Intuit decided to sell the firm. Other firms spent this time investing in their solutions and building out new capabilities.
  • NCR is going to have to move very quickly in order to compete. Newer firms like Q2 have been gobbling up market share from the classic providers. Other startups are emerging on the scene. NCR will have to forge ahead rather quickly in order to stay relevant in the online and mobile banking market.
  • NCR is going to have to manage the expectations and concerns of Digital Insight clients. Digital Insight clients have bounced around from Intuit to Thoma Bravo to NCR in a very short period of time. This can be a frustrating experience and NCR is going to have to work hard to make these clients happy.
  • NCR and Digital Insight both offer digital banking solutions. Some of this product overlap will need to be rationalized.
This acquisition is certainly big news for the fintech industry, and I’m curious to see where it will take NCR. Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts and comments.  

Omni-Channel Roundtable in Toronto — the Summary

We recently held a banks-only roundtable at our offices in Toronto to discuss “New Imperatives for Omni-Channel Delivery.” With representation from Canadian and US financial institutions, we had a robust conversation around the movement from “multi-channel” (old and siloed) to “omni-channel” (integrated and mutually reinforcing). Some of the attendees had interesting – and fairly recent – titles: “Director, Multi-Channel Experience” and “Director, Multi-Channel Strategy” were two that were particularly noticeable, while two others had “Channels” in their title.  Taking an integrated view of the channels portfolio appears to be catching on in Canada! Some interesting observations surfaced.
  1. Banks are rolling out channels and touchpoints without necessarily teaching the customer how to best use them.  When ATMs (or ABMs, north of the border) first came out, bank personnel would walk customers over to them and give them a basic tutorial. There is precious little analogous activity in our new digital channels; we simply assume that customers will pick up on how to use them.  Apple has trained us to think that really good experiences need no tutorial, but that’s not necessarily the case in banking, particularly when it comes to security concerns.
  2. The session didn’t address Personal Financial Management (PFM) directly, but when we touched on it, the group took off on a twenty-minute tangent!  There’s clearly a lot of interest in PFM despite anecdotal adoption rates that continue to hover around 10%.
  3. Piggybacking off existing infrastructure, e.g., the AppStore ratings engine and comments section, is a great way to garner customer feedback. The key, obviously, is to listen and act on the comments that customers provide, and at least one bank watches its ratings assiduously and uses the feature requests and complaints as a key driver of release improvements.
  4. As in the U.S., the fate of the branch network is an important strategic issue. One component that will have some bearing on this is video banking, whether through hardpoints or consumer devices (laptops or tablets). Bankers are clearly keen to determine how video can supplement other channel experiences.
  5. A sneak peek of a Celent survey of Canadian banking customers showed their behavior to be remarkably similar to Americans’.  While there were a couple of exceptions (to be detailed soon in an upcoming report), there were no huge disconnects.  Despite some of the differences in the structure of our two banking systems (oligopolistic vs. fragmented, and cooperative on infrastructure vs. wildly independent), our consumers tend to view and use their banks similarly.
We’re looking forward to additional roundtables in 2014.  If you’ve got specific topics you’d like to see addressed, or cities you’d like us to visit, please let us know!

Now, Virtual ATMs?

All things mobile are so hot right now, and for good reason. Smartphones are quickly overtaking mobile telephony devices at breakneck speed. Remember when people talked on their mobile phones? AT&T activated 8.6 million iPhones and 10.2 million smartphones in the last quarter. Verizon iPhone activations increased by 47% in th3e past quarter. 6.2 million of the 9.8 million smartphone activations in the past quarter were iPhones. Beyond the growth in smartphone usage, it seems new mobile payment options are emerging with mind-numbing regularity. But what about cash? As much as mobile payment proponents would love to see it occur, cash hasn’t shown much migration to digital payment alternatives. Will the erosion of cash usage accelerate? I think so, but cash will be commonplace for the foreseeable future. In fact, that’s why there are so many ATMs. Until recently, 90% of bank-owned ATM transactions were one thing…cash withdrawals. This need for cash spawned the installation of 135 ATMs per 100,000 adults in the US – that’s roughly one ATM for every 750 people (including non-bank owned devices)! As far as we know, this represents the highest ATM density in the world, except for Spain and Canada (see below).

ATM Density

ATM sales have stalled over the past few years to no surprize. We probably have enough of them deployed – in developed countries at least. But what if there were a credible alternative to ATMs for cash dispensing? Apple apparently thinks it has one. It has filed a patent application accordingly. I was made aware of this courtesy of Janney Capital Markets.

Forget Digital Wallet. Apple Wants to Turn YOU Into an ATM Via Ad-Hoc Cash Dispensing Network A recent patent application filed by Apple (AAPL – $456.83; Buy, Janney analyst Bill Choi), describes an iTunes-based ATM network. “Need some quick cash right now and there’s no ATM around? Launch the Cash app, and tell it how much do you need. The app picks up your location, and sends the request for cash to nearby iPhone users. When someone agrees to front you $20, his location is shown to you on the map. You go to that person, pick up the bill and confirm the transaction on your iPhone. $20 plus a small service fee is deducted from your iTunes account and deposited to the guy who gave you the cash.” The patent application makes 24 claims and makes interesting reading. The idea invites a few questions…
  • Could Apple pull it off? Effortlessly! It has all the requisite components: a critical mass of iPhone users, geolocation enabled on the vast majority (I think), a distribution mechanism for the requisite apps and its iTunes accounts each iPhone user must maintain.
  • Would anyone use it? That invites a less obvious answer. Both Apple and the cash provider would need some incentive. Research suggests consumers aren’t fond of ATM surcharge fees, particularly as they grow over a couple of bucks. The fee structure would be key as would the user experience. A few attempts with poor response, or fast response by a total jerk, for example, would likely present an adoption barrier.
So if this comes to market, it might never see widespread usage. Even so, the cost to deploy is so small compared to maintaining vast fleets of ATMs, I find the idea compelling. I hope it is available the next time one of my kids asks me to borrow 20 bucks.

Personal Teller Machines: The Next Evolution of ATMs?

Last week NCR announced a partnership with uGenius that will result in a new NCR device adding real time video to the ATM experience. The new NCR APTRA Interactive Teller ATM, based on its successful SelfServ 32 platform will add hardware components such as a Speaker, photo ID scanner, signature capture device, microphone and handset along with uGenius software at the ATM and in the back office. The uGenius software will be installed along with NCR’s own APTRA Activate. The announcement did not commit to availability or pricing for the new personal teller machines.

Celent thinks personal teller machines will be the next evolution of ATMs for three reasons:

  • PTMs deliver improved customer intimacy with a modest cost increment over ATMs – still delivering lower per transaction costs than traditional branch transactions.
  • PTMs will broaden the transaction mix versus ATMs – thus far an unproven assertion (I think).
  • PTMs will likely show improved sales lead generation results over ATMs through the more personal interaction with a live teller.

But how and where will PTMs be used? Coastal Federal Credit Union used uGenius PTMs to fully replace traditional branch tellers in its 15 depositoy branches while extending hours of service – and at the same time reduced teller staffing costs by over 40%. An impressive feat! Coastal’s case study is available in a recent Celent report: Branch Banking in a Multichannel World Part III: Case studies in Branch Transformation. But, how many financial institutions will be so bold? We anticipate more surgical adoption such as branch vestibule self-service, mini-branches and replacement of conventional pneumatic drive-through mechanisms.
Coastal FCU's PTM

Coastal FCU's PTM

Regardless of the adoption mechanisms, the partnership is a good thing. uGenius delivered a solid concept and has the market research to suggest strong consumer acceptance of PTMs. But, it lacked the scalability and credibility to win over the larger banks. NCR changes all that. Moreover, the resulting NCR APTRA Interactive Teller ATM will be superior to the uGenius PTMs in several ways. For starters, the devices will be PCI compliant so consumers can authenticate the way they’re used to doing – using a debit card and PIN, rather than relying on a photo ID scanner. And, we expect the units will be fully Check 21 enabled and integrated with legacy teller systems. But these are window dressing compared to the primary differentiator. The new device isn’t just a PTM. It can function as a multifunction ATM or a PTM at the customer’s discretion (if so enabled by the financial institution). So, tellers may not be needed or used for the millions of consumers more than comfortable with self-directed ATM transactions. But for those in need of coaching or just plain preferring a human interaction, the PTM’s remote teller will be at your beckon call. This, in our opinion, is a natural evolution of the ATM.

Comparing Channel Priorities: Europe and the US Revisited

This revisits an earlier blog entry comparing stated channel priorities between US and European banks. I’m encouraged by the spirited discussions it spawned. Some have been critical of bank’s slow – even flawed – approach to multichannel delivery. We agree. There are clear philosophical, generational, organizational and systems barriers to a swift and through transition from a branch centric to multichannel operations. If it were easy, more banks would be there, but it’s an intricate and complex set of challenges in many financial institutions – particularly the large ones. But, that wasn’t the point of the last blog entry. Rather, it meant to simply highlight some differences observed in relative channel priorities between Europe and the US, particularly the mobile and ATM channels. So let’s return to the two questions posed earlier with the benefit of the many that were so kind as to weigh in with their perspectives. 1. Why is the ATM channel such a comparatively high priority among EU banks? 2. Conversely, why is the mobile banking channel such a comparatively low priority? But, first a short digression on the research cited. channel-priorities In both the Celent and Oliver Wyman research, surveys used a forced ranking technique when inquiring about relative channel priorities. Doing so requires survey respondents to select one answer as first priority, another as second, and so on. The idea is to better distinguish among closely competing priorities. An alternative approach is to invite respondents to rate each channel on a relative priority scale. The risk in doing so is that everything can look “most important”. Neither approach is perfect. In retrospect, I wish we had asked the question both ways. Here’s why. The specific question asked in the Celent survey was: “Given limited resources, indicate the relative priority among your delivery channels based on what gets funded in your organization.” More than a few respondents noted that channel priorities are all very closely grouped, and that coming up with a clear ranking order was difficult. Add to that, within any given financial institution, the stated channel priority might vary internally. That said, the data presented above might overstate (somewhat) the practical priorities among channels. Practically, does it really matter if a given channel is priority #2 versus priority #3 if all requested projects get funded? Perhaps not, but the differences can shed insight into how financial institutions think about the various channels. The Celent survey also asked respondents, “What is driving these priorities?” The response was an open text field, meaning respondents could type in anything they wanted. The answers are revealing. By a large margin, most FIs said that the following drive channel priorities: 1. Customer demand or channel usage (a clear #1) 2. Transaction cost (a distant #2) 3. Competition – FI’s perceived need to react to competition or be disadvantaged (an even more distant #3) Relatively few FIs in Celent’s sample seemed to indicate that channel priorities are based on a long-term strategy. Instead, many seem to be chasing transaction metrics. In other words, the greater the channel usage, the higher its priority. The obvious problem with this approach is that emerging channels will be under appreciated by definition. More strategically driven FIs will choose to get ahead of the usage curve – in fact influence channel usage with innovative delivery mechanisms. Such FIs will likely forever remain in the minority. Back to the questions… So if channel priorities are driven by usage in most FIs, then the differences between Europe and the US might be explained (at least in part) by differences in the payments landscape between the two markets. Cash usage, in particular, remains higher in Europe compared to the US. For example, the Payments Council announced in December 2010 that debit cards have just overtaken cash usage in the UK. Such occurred in the US around 2005 or so. Consequently, ATMs would be logically more highly used in Europe than in the US and a higher channel priority as a result. Additionally, there are more examples of in-branch self-service in Europe than the US, serving to broaden the functional use of ATMs as well as overall usage. What about mobile banking differences? Several weighed in suggesting that Europe has had mobile banking for years, so it’s not as trendy as it has become in the US – and that’s why the mobile channel is a lower priority in Europe. I tend to think that the differences have more to do with how “mobile” is defined in the minds of individual survey respondents. If Europeans consider smart phones as “internet devices”, then the explosive growth of smart phones might be associated with the internet channel – a very close #2 priority behind the branch channel in Europe.

Comparing Channel Priorities: Europe and the US

I recently reviewed an Oliver Wyman report on multichannel banking among large European banks that includes the results of a survey of 30 European retail banks from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and United Kingdom. Taking note of relative channel priorities among survey participants, I was compelled to compare those with stated priorities among US banks surveyed in July as part of a Celent research effort aimed at understanding the current and future state of branch infrastructure leading to a report published in August. The Celent survey gathered responses from 187 financial institutions. Among them were 33 banks in the >US$50b asset tier. The graph below compares stated channel priorities between the Europe and US >$50b responses. The graph shows the percentage of respondents rating each channel as #1, #2 or #3 in spending priority.
Source: separate Oliver Wyman and Celent surveys

Source: separate Oliver Wyman and Celent surveys

I’d like to offer a few observations and invite your comments. In both regions: • Multichannel investment is a high priority • Branch channel remains the highest priority, closely followed by the internet channel. Interestingly, branch channel priorities are nearly identical across the two regions. • Mobile banking is the lowest priority channel However, there are several significant differences. Specifically: • The ATM channel is a much higher priority among large European banks than it is among the US sample. 50% of the EU banks rated the ATM channel #1 or #2 in priority compared to just 19% among large US banks. • The mobile channel is a comparatively low priority among EU banks (17% placing mobile banking among the top-2 priorities versus 26% among large US banks). Now, two questions for our readers. Feel free to post a comment or e-mail me directly at if you wish to weigh in off the record. 1. Why is the ATM channel such a comparatively high priority among EU banks? 2. Conversely, why is the mobile banking channel such a comparatively low priority? I’ll post a summary of responses along with a Celent/Oliver Wyman position next week.

The Growing Importance of Self-Service

Reg. E changes, the Credit Card act of 2009, the Restoring American Financial Stability Act – all have eroded banks ability to generate revenue. While the full extent of the damage this legislation has caused the industry remains to be seen, one clear implication is that banks must shed costs. For example, in a July 2010 Celent survey of 200+ financial institutions, two-thirds of respondents cited cost reduction as one of their top-3 retail banking priorities. Shedding cost is relatively easy. Doing so without compromising sales and service delivery is a significant challenge. Celent sees self-service becoming increasingly important in the new normal. Here are several recent examples.
  • Chase is offering essentially free remote deposit capture (RDC) solution to small business customers as long as they make a requisite number of monthly deposits using RDC. The implicit objective is to reduce the branch traffic along with its related costs.
  • Bank of America is piloting a new eBanking account which is free to customers using 100% self-service channels. Using the branch for those customers will result in an $8.95 fee.
  • Chase began offering mobile RDC capability to iPhone users of its mobile banking solution. Mobile RDC offers a low-cost self-service deposit capability that, by definition, keeps check deposit transactions out of the branch.
  • A small but growing number of credit unions led by Coastal FCU in North Carolina have extended branch hours, not by keeping the branch open longer, but by deploying vestibule personal teller machines (PTMs) that combine ATM like experience with real-time video conferencing with tellers housed in a centrally located call center. Doing so has provided extended branch hours at a fraction of the cost of keeping full-service branches open longer.
The common thread among these examples is customer pleasing service delivery at significantly lower cost than the traditional branch banking service model. Is there any doubt that the trend will continue?

Customer control in the ATM world

I wanted to build on my earlier blogs about customers getting more control over their card transactions. I do think it’s a genuine trend, although I am conscious that the more you think about something, the more you tend to notice things which seem to support your argument, yet otherwise perhaps wouldn’t have caught your attention. This is one such example. I just came back from a long weekend in Brugge, Belgium. Just as an aside – if you haven’t been to Brugge, you should pack your bags and go as soon as you have a chance. Many years, before I even heard of it, when people described it to me as “Venice of the North, prettier than Paris, etc”, I could not believe it, but I’ve now been there three times and agree with all those accolades. Beautiful litte town. Back to cards though. Card acceptance is broad and you can use your plastic pretty much anywhere. You can also see the signs of Bancontact/ Mr Cash, a local debit scheme, all over the place, with the plans to migrate Mr Cash to Maestro having been shelved a few years ago. As a tourist though, you still feel the need for the safety of cash sometimes. So I went to BNP Paribas ATM, which if I remember it correctly was one of the Diebold models. Most ATM transactions, especially abroad, tend to suprise you only when for whatever reason they refuse your card and you can’t get your money. However, here I was positively surprised – after I entered the amount, I was given a choice of notes denomination. For 150 Euros I was given a couple of options – 3×50 or 5×20+1×50. As I changed the amount, the options changed accordingly, e.g. for EUR160 = 2×50 + 3×20 or 8*20. I am not sure, perhaps it is a standard ATM feature in some other countries as well, but I haven’t seen that in the UK or in any other countries I travelled recently and I thought it was a nice bit of functionality, making me feel that I have influence and control over the outcome of the transcation.

non-branch channels

Two different banks in the past 30 days have come to Celent looking for help with non-branch channels, and the banks couldn’t be more different. One is a local bank in the US with a few dozen branches. The other is a global bank with operations in dozens of countries. Both are thinking about the shift of activities from branch to other channels as their clients change their behaviors. I believe that this will impact the technology infrastructure of all banks. Channel proliferation will drive banks to an SOA so that new channels, whatever they may be, can easily be added to banking infrastructure.
  • Branch
  • ATM
  • IVR
  • Call Center
  • Internet Banking
  • Mobile SMS
  • Mobile Web
  • Mobile Thick client / App
  • Twitter?
  • Facebook?
The list grows and grows. Since most of these channels are real time, systems will also need to be real time. Banks will need to invest to keep up.