Certain technologies and their related land uses have come and gone throughout history. In the past fifty years, examples include phone booths/pay phones, the Fotomat, or automated stamp dispensers – all victims of technological advancements and consumer choice. Another technology/land use that this author believes that may be headed for near extinction is the ATM or automated teller machine.
According to data from the ATM Council (whoever knew there was such a thing), there are approximately 425,000 ATMs deployed across the United States alone. These units are located in obvious places like banks and credit unions, but you can find them in many other locations including bars, convenience stores, restaurants, airports, casinos, malls, truck stops, convention centers, stadiums, bowling alleys, and a litany of other locations including freestanding drive-thru sites. Given their wide dispersal, many may think that ATMs will be around forever. But of course, 30 years ago we were confident that phone booths and pay phones would be around forever too – Superman is still lamenting the near total loss of phone booths.
As recently as 2000 (a mere 15 years ago), there were more than 2,000,000 pay phones in the United States – as of 2013 that number had plummeted to less than 250,000. My guess is their numbers have continued to decline, as one rarely sees them anymore as the world is now dominated by cell phones, smart phones, and prepaid cell phones.
Fotomat Corporation had as many as 4,000 drive-thru film developing units in 1980 and was once listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Today, they are defunct and have been replaced by digital photography.
Back to the iconic ATM. With cashless digital payment offerings abounding, is there long-term viability for so many ATMs. I rather doubt it, particularly if PayPal, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Wallet, Pay with Amazon, Bitcoin, or Square have anything to say about it. In fact, the nation of Sweden is very close to becoming the first cashless society on the planet thanks to the Swish digital payment system utilized there.
Of course, only time will tell, but it is hard to imagine that so many ATMs will be necessary 10, 20, 0r 30 years into the future. Heck, by then there may be new technologies on the horizon that will threaten the viability of digital payment systems – neurotransmitting payment systems or telepathic purchasing perhaps?
UPDATE: Check out the 11/22/15 episode of “60 Minutes” for a fascinating story on M-Pesa – a mobile payment system that does not depend on smartphones. It is being adopted by Kenyans at all socio-economic levels.