Smartphones set to replace cards at ATMs

Banking technology could force the closure of traditional branches. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Banking technology could force the closure of traditional branches. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Washington - Here's another use for the smartphone as it invades daily life: In place of your debit card at your bank cash machine.

The "cardless" automatic teller machine (ATM) is gaining ground in the US and around the world, with smartphone technology allowing for speedier and more secure transactions.

Dozens of US banks are installing new ATMs or updating existing ones to allow customers to order cash on a mobile application and then scan a code to get their money without having to insert a bank card.

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US banking giants Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Chase are in the process of deploying the new ATMs, as are a number of regional banks and financial groups around the world. Makers of ATMs and financial software groups are ramping up to meet this demand.

"We think our model (using smartphones) reduces a lot of vulnerabilities," said Doug Brown, who leads mobile technology for FIS Global, a major provider of software and technology for ATMs.

Operational

Brown said the FIS cardless system is being used at some 2 000 ATMs operated by at least 28 banks in the US "and we're looking to rapidly expand that".

He said the system should be operational at some 80 000 machines in North America over the coming 18 months. And similar changes are coming in other countries, according to Brown.

In addition to speeding the transaction time, the smartphone-based system aims to curb the growing problem of "skimming" in which criminals steal the data on a card, often by inserting devices into the ATM card slot.

By some estimates, skimming cost the global banking industry some $2bn in 2015 and can lead to other kinds of fraud when card data is stolen.

"Consumers are aware of this, they really understand and welcome this," Brown said.

Another security benefit, Brown said, is that authenticating on the handset reduces the time spent at the ATM to around 10 seconds instead of the typical 30 to 40 seconds.

"The performance is kind shocking to some people, they almost jump back at the instantaneous response," Brown said. "But it provides more physical security because they can make the transaction faster."

Bank of America spokesperson Betty Riess said the group is "currently developing a new cardless ATM solution" based on NFC or near field communication technology to allow customers to authenticate without the use of a card.

"We'll roll out this capability in late February to associates in select ATMs in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Charlotte, New York and Boston." Riess said. "It will be followed by a broader customer launch mid-year."

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