As the ATM Turns 50, an Association Reflects on Its Legacy

The automated teller machine, a device that has changed the way we interact with money, celebrated a golden anniversary this week. The ATM Industry Association, which itself is turning 20 this year, is ready to celebrate.

Five decades ago, a small machine, located on the outside of a Barclays bank in the London borough of Enfield, offered a truly important way of rethinking how we ponder cash.

The automated teller machine (ATM), an invention by John Shepherd-Barron, won over Barclays quickly, according to a 2007 BBC article, but it took a while for the rest of the world to see its value. Eventually, it did—through no small part of an association’s hard work.

What Was the Holdup?

The ATM hit the United States in 1969, but it didn’t thrive until the 1980s—a delay caused in no small part by the tides of tradition. (Not every company was as excited about ATMs as Barclays was.)

Part of the issue was a lack of technology—as MarketWatch notes, the ATM actually came before the debit card, making the process of acquiring money more cumbersome at first. It didn’t help that the devices were considered novelties, either.

But the industry eventually was able to jump over this hump in no small part due to moves by banks to network the devices together.

The adoption curve reveals no measurable traction for U.S. ATMs until 1979, at which point the pot finally began to boil.

“The adoption curve reveals no measurable traction for U.S. ATMs until 1979, at which point the pot finally began to boil,” the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA) noted in a February article. “Perhaps not coincidentally, 1979 also saw the introduction of networked ATMs, which allowed withdrawals from machines operated by entities beyond the consumer’s own bank.”

Reflecting on an Important Legacy

ATMIA was founded in 1997, three full decades after the invention of the ATM, but has played an important role in pushing the industry forward. The group also has celebrated the anniversary heavily throughout the year. Among the ways:

Photographic highlights from ATM history: At the group’s annual U.S. conference in Orlando in February, ATMIA introduced a memorabilia-heavy board for attendees to check out, highlighting just a few important points in the history of the device. The board also made an appearance at the association’s ATM Cash & Innovation Europe event earlier this month.

An Arctic “Moolah Machine.” (via the ATM Industry Association)

Highlighting the extremes: As part of the celebration, the association produced an “Extreme ATMs Dossier” [PDF], a list of some of the most remote or offbeat cash machines globally. Antarctica has a few ATMs, as do remote parts of Australia, Paraguay, and Afghanistan.

A new lifetime achievement award: Earlier this month, ATMIA launched its initial Lifetime Global Innovation Award, in honor of the anniversary. The first one is going to NCR Corporation’s Chairman and CEO Bill Nuti. “Bill is a pioneering leader who has propelled innovation at NCR, and is reinventing how companies engage and connect with customers in the digital economy,” ATMIA Europe Executive Director Ron Delnevo said in a news release. Nuti himself reflected on the day in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “It solved a common problem: In much of the world, cash could be obtained only when a bank was open, typically weekdays between about 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., known as ‘bankers’ hours,'” he explained. “The limited schedule often meant long lines. And it could be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain money from a bank other than your own.”

Getting Golden

Of course, ATMIA isn’t alone in honoring the iconic device’s anniversary.

The Enfield branch of Barclays recently installed a gold-colored ATM, next to a little sign that says it was the place where the first ATM was located. The technology has been updated, but the device still works.

Sometimes, the best way to honor an invention is to keep it functioning into the present day.

A display from ATMIA's annual meeting. (ATM Industry Association)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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