An ATM Gone Wrong — The Triumph of Little Computers?

Photo: neoliminal

I recently switched banks, to Chase. So far, it’s been a pretty good experience. Indeed, the bank does a lot of very good things from a customer-service perspective.


While using an ATM, I wasn’t able to pull up a list of recent transactions. I was sure I just wasn’t finding the right menu. I could print out the recent transactions but I didn’t want to print it out; I just wanted to look at it on the computer screen. Having failed to figure it out after a few ATM visits, I wrote to the very helpful and smart Chase employee who helped me set up my accounts. He confirmed that I couldn’t get recent-transaction data via the ATM screen. Furthermore, he wrote:

Your only other options at this point are:

1) Enroll your mobile phone for Chase Mobile which will allow you to receive a text message of recent history

2) Download the Chase iPhone application which will allow you to access real-time transactions

3) Stop in and sit with a banker who can show you recent transactions/pending or posted

At this time, there is no alternate way to view recent history at a Chase ATM.

I apologize for the inconvenience.

 Wha? “Sit with a banker” to see my recent transactions? Shall I bring my collection of buggy whips to pass the time while waiting?

I am all for mobile banking apps (and in fact I use them) but why shouldn’t I be able to see this basic banking information when I am using the bank’s main portal for deposits/withdrawals/etc.?

That’s what I wrote back to ask him. His reply:

Honestly, I have a feeling that the only reason that the recent transactions are not viewable at the ATM is due to privacy reasons or the potential time that it would take to review transactions at the ATM.  The system currently only allows printed copies of the statement print.  I have forwarded your feedback to our upper management for future updates regarding our ATMs.


I don’t buy the “potential time” argument since it would likely take longer to print a transaction list, read it over, and continue with the ATM.

As for the “privacy reasons”: is Chase, which is happy to dispense cash and take deposits and display account balances at its machines, really concerned that some passing stranger might see that I spent $28 at the dry cleaner?

So what is this really about?

I have three possible answers, perhaps none of which are correct. Happy to hear your thoughts:

1. Maybe the “privacy reasons” is legit — and if so, is yet another example of security overkill.

2. Maybe big banks — even a relatively good one, so far, in my n=1 experience — simply aren’t very good at providing the most basic customer services.

3. Might this represent the triumph of little computers over big ones? At least on the demand side? An ATM is hooked up to a pretty big and powerful computer. And yet the tiny computers we carry around in our pockets these days have mobile apps that are capable of wonderful things. Is this ATM story an example of how firms are increasingly catering to mobile business even at the detriment of their core businesses?

ADDENDUM: Having read some of the early comments on this post, let me quickly clarify two things: 1) my old bank offered on-screen transaction data; 2) the reason I want that data is simple: if I visit the ATM and find an account balance isn’t what I expected, it’s handy to be able to see what transactions have occurred, leading to this unexpected balance.

Emanuele Bracco

Another (partial) reason is that they may want to keept ATMs with as little options as possible, to keep them simple. ATMs are to be used by everyone, also computer illitterate.

morne mostert

Mobility inspires convergence. 'Big' has centralisation power, but struggles to converge the right things. Small promotes bespoke.


I'm going with privacy being legit. My bank doesn't even display balance information. They only print it.


I wish the ATM would connect with my iTunes/iCloud account and play my "ATM Playlist" during my transactions. Maybe if Chase could open-source the ATM software we could finally get some awesome Apps on these machines.

Bill Judge

I think that we are being nudged (forced?) to use mobile apps more so that more data can be harvested for marketers to mine away at. When you download the latest Chase app on Android you'll see that you must consent to allowing access to all of your contact info. I see no (positive) reason for them to have access to all of my friends, relatives and business associates email addresses and phone numbers other than marketing and data mining. I started the upgrade, saw the permissions necessary and declined. This is a shift, it would be insane for a web site to ask for that kind of info but it seems just fine for an app to ask for that. Pandora mobile does the same.


The most likely explanation is simple: programming cost & priorities.

The print function is probably using an existing piece of code, and is compatible with all the printers being used at ATMs. The display on screen function requires new code to be developed, and tested, perhaps with multiple different ATM models/versions -- this takes time & money, and is deemed to have lower value than the snazzy mobile app.

The internal decision making analysis might include something like this: most customers who want to review transactions will do it on the web or smartphone, only a few diehards will care about tx review on the ATM, give them the print function and be done with it.


I suspect the ATM "app" just was not written to display the transactions on the screen...

Mark Wolfinger

You opened an account at one of the scumbag banks?
Shame on you


I think you discount the 'potential time' reason too easily. While there are ATMs that aren't busy, during rush times I frequently see lines at ATMs. In the drug store across the street from my home, they have 3 ATMs and there are usually lines at each. I know I'd be ticked if the person in front of me was sitting there looking for their $28 drycleaning transaction...

I'm curious why you chose Chase. Did you consider a credit union?


To clarify my response: You can print your current transaction, not recent ones, so you can't print a list of recent transactions to review while standing there.


im pretty sure chase charges a fee for printing out your last few transactions.
so its a profit thing

Ross Martin

A couple of thoughts:

- The security issue might not be about someone seeing your $28 dry-cleaning bill but about gaining deeper access to your account. Banks use challenge questions when you call to do banking by phone or change a password. One of those questions is "What were the last three transactions on your account?" Putting it on a slip of paper or a app in your hand might be safer than displaying it.

- System changes always cost money and are prioritized by criticality and demand. Maybe this feature is on the list but hasn't bubbled up to the top. I'm guessing that ATM software changes have to go through a lot more hoops than app changes because the former is part of a larger banking network (I can get cash from my USAA account on any other bank's ATM) and the latter is exclusive to a single bank.

- They might not like you personally and have a special department set up to think of ways to annoy you just enough to get under your skin but not so much that you'll take your money to another bank. This is a very delicate balance to achieve, so I would imagine that they'd need at least a dozen people on the job--including behavioral psychologists and a surveillance team.

My bet is on that last one because it would also explain why the whole banking system is such a mess.



I actually do buy the "potential time" reason. I've never thought to review all of my transactions on an ATM for this reason. When there's people waiting behind me, I want to get what I need and get out. And I just know I wuld always end up waiting behind the person who wants to go over each and every transaction in detail.

I look over my transactions on my bank's website on my home computer, not my phone. I was surprised that wasn't listed as an option. Does Chase offer online banking, not through a mobile app?

Chris Hase

I could understand the "takes too much time" argument. If these guys are trying to maximize customer throughput, and maybe the average customer experience, they likely want to streamline the transactions that take the longest, like a pensive review of your finances. The "print and read" option enables you to physically leave the ATM, and the archaism discourages you from doing it in the first place. From the banks perspective, it’s much more efficient for you to be checking that data on your phone than to be clogging up their ATMs.


Chase is a big organisation.

Within a big organisation "it's always been done this way and few people are presently screaming about it" is a perfectly good reason to change nothing.

Beyond that, it is just path dependency – at some point, someone somewhere (probably quite a long time ago) had to decide on whether or not to allow to check recent transactions at the ATM as part of 1,000 other decisions he or she had to make that day. So a small amount of time was spent on the evaluation, and a judgement call was made… Of course, within a complicated system it is very difficult to think of everything and get everything right on the first attempt (hence we have "beta testing" in software). So the problem is that it is not being changed, not that it was decided on in the first place.


I had a similar epiphany last night working with Wells Fargo's "Online" "Account" "Management" "System."

The scare quotes are there because it is absolutely horrifying that the nations 4th largest bank, with over 1.2 trillion in assets, provides this abysmal service. A user interface this half-baked screams an invitation to get to know my credit union's online services, which I did.

Wayne B.

By time I think they might be concerned with the "time" you'd spend standing there reviewing your transactions while others are waiting in line versus taking your printout and allowing next person to use ATM sooner.


I actually find the time argument very reasonable. The main purpose of the ATM is to withdraw money. That process might depend on the amount of money I have in my account but it does not depend on what I have done with it during the last few days. So I would expect normal behaviour to be:
Check balance
Withdraw money
Get receipt with latest transactions.
Walk away reading the receipt allowing next person to access the ATM


So you're the guy I get stuck behind at the ATM that takes 20 minutes to get 20 dollars!


A few things:

1. I am sure that on your laptop or home computer you can view your account history, maybe even scanned checks.

2. You are giving security a lower priority than banks due. I worked in marketing at a bank, and we weren't allowed to let anyone (TV News) film on our property lest someone in the banking be seen entering or leaving. We joked it was the adulterous spouse or second family question, but, truly, banking holds to a high degree of personal discretion. Many people have bank accounts ow which their spouses or families have no knowledge.

3. Anything that appears on a screen can stay there, at least briefly, when you walk away. Some of the above issues might be relevant.

4. When you are in a long line for an ATM, the purpose is to rapidly get cash, not account research.

Anyway, maybe some helpful and thought-provoking thoughts there!

Happy Holidays!