Bankers: Re-Evaluate Automated Teller Machine Usage Fees / ATM Customers Should Temper Use by the Expenses Involved

Article excerpt

Let me tell you a little story about people and technology.

As far back as you can remember, machines were designed to make life easier for us. They were supposed to relieve us from drudgery and do work we didn't particularly like. The same reasoning applies somewhat to computers.

Computers, the story goes, were ``smart'' machines. They could take the place of people in certain jobs. Like bank tellers. Who needs a human to count money? A computer-machine could do that, and do it cheaper than paying a teller's salary and providing benefits.

These same people, bankers by name, figured that eventually folks wouldn't need regular banks any more. We could do all our banking at a kiosk or in a shopping mall or even in the grocery store, using an automated teller machine (ATM). We'd get convenience, and the banks would save money.

So they installed automated tellers, and they urged us to get our bank cards and PINs (personal identification numbers) and use them. They sponsored contests and gave us prizes for using their machines. And slowly, we did begin to use them. Last year, there were more than 3.5 billion ATM transactions.

To many people, automated teller machine use became an integral and convenient part of their banking habits. They became so popular that instead of lines at the teller windows, there are now lines in front of the machines.

So what did the banks decide to do? Start charging us a fee for using the machines that they installed to make banking easier - and supposedly cheaper.

But now it seems they've found out that it's more expensive to operate the machines than they thought. In fact, one banker estimates that a single authomated teller machine, including purchase or lease price, maintenance, software, telephone lines, equipment and security, costs between $35,000 and $65,000 a year to operate.

Gosh, I think a human teller might be cheaper.

So, folks, we're going to get charged for our automated teller machine transactions. Do you know if you're paying fees? The quickest way to find out is to call your bank. If you're not, it's likely that you will be soon.

Last year, more than 53 percent of America's banks levied a fee on automated teller machine use, and it appears everyone's getting on the bandwagon. You should know if your bank is going along for the ride.

Here are some questions to ask concerning your bank's policy toward their use.

- Is there an annual charge to maintain a bank (ATM) card?

- Is there a transaction fee - a charge whenever you use an ATM? …