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.

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  1. Emanuele Bracco says:

    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.

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  2. morne mostert says:

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

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  3. MaxHedrm says:

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

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  4. jimmy says:

    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.

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  5. Bill Judge says:

    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.

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  6. CS says:

    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.

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  7. Allan says:

    I suspect the ATM “app” just was not written to display the transactions on the screen…

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  8. Mark Wolfinger says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • T.S. says:

      Uh, that scumbag bank employs hundreds of thousands of Americans, provide probably hundreds of millions of dollars in various taxes across the country and gave me a mortgage loan when my credit union told me they don’t do mortgages at all anymore. Getting a little tired of these hyperbolical pictures that everyone draws of the big banks.

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      • Russell W says:

        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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