Thursday, February 10, 2005

The ATM Experience

Tea time is when we at work relax, kick off our shoes and talk about stuff which are usually non-work related. The general conversation revolves around things currently in news or about some experience that one of us had over the weekend. Interestingly enough, our topic today was ATM - no, not the one thats got to do with mathematics, but the Automated Teller Machine.

Visiting the ATM these days has become quite an ordeal. More often than not, you would end up waiting in a long queue. I've been using the ATM for the past couple of years and have had my share of experiences. This particular bank that I'm talking about (and I'm sure others would follow suit), has two teller machines close to my office and is usually crowded during business hours. A typical scene at the ATM is as follows -
  1. You go to the ATM with an urgent need for cash only to find a queue that snakes a mile long.
  2. You decide to wait in the queue after learning that the nearest ATM of the same bank is about 4 blocks away.
  3. While waiting at the queue you notice people cutting in - joining their friend/colleague/spouse who is standing ahead of you. You control your anger by biting your jaw.
  4. Almost half way through, you realize that one of the teller machines is not working. The two line queue reorganizes into one at the blink of an eye. You look at your watch and calculate how much longer you'd have to wait. You force yourself to be calm and chew another polo.
  5. After waiting for what seems like ages, you have finally one person in front of you when you see the other teller machine up and running. Your brain starts computing enormous differential algorithms and you finally decide to stick to the same queue.
  6. The person in front completes his transaction and you proceed to the teller. You gently push the ATM card into the slot and and enter your transaction details. The teller processes it and displays the following message -
    Sorry! Your transaction cannot be completed. Please try again later.
  7. You gather your wits, cancel the transaction, eject your card and try again. People behind start giving you all sorts of looks. You also notice the speed at which the other line starts moving. You are reminded of Murphy's Laws. You enter the PIN code slowly this time, making sure you've entered them right and wait. You get the same message.
  8. You turn around and ask the person behind you to try his card. You step aside so that he can enter his PIN code. He gets the same message. We conclude that the teller has no money in it and make an announcement for the others.
  9. You turn to the second line and request the person whose turn is next to let you in after having explained your situation. He agrees and you thank him profusely.
  10. You proceed to the teller machine, complete your transaction, thank the person once again and leave.
The "experience" is not the same as what it used to be. The present ATM's could do with a fair amount of re-engineering in design and usability so as to reduce time spent using it. The design of an ATM should not only include its inherent usability but also its perceived usability. For example, Tracktinsky found that subjects based their overall experience of the usability of the ATM on the look of the machine.

The current process can be listed as follows -
  • Insert card.
  • Select language.
  • Enter pin.
  • Choose transaction option.
  • Enter details (amount).
  • Receipt? (yes / no).
  • Withdraw cash
  • Another transaction? (yes / no)
  • Collect receipt.
  • Collect card (beeps)
Essentially, you would have to go through that many steps to withdraw money from the teller machine. This can be reduced to a certain extent by introducing AI into the system, thereby speeding things up. Here's how -
  • If the user selects English as language, it should set that as default and quit asking the next time. (one key stroke less).
  • I've got the habit of withdrawing the same amount over 90% of the time, so it should allow for dispensing that amount (checking from transaction history) at the click of a single button rather than having me (the user) to enter the amount again. (3 or more key strokes less)
  • I've noticed slightly taller (6 feet and above) people having to bend down to look at the screen. This can be avoided by having configurable screen settings for individual users. So, certain users can have the screen tilt or the display height adjusted automatically when they insert their card into the machine. This returns to default state when the transaction is completed. Needless to say, the same goes for people of shorter height.

  • The display is also difficult to look at under certain lighting conditions especially outdoors. They could have sensors installed that automatically adjust display settings according to the ambience.
  • The ATM display could also do with better graphics. Motion graphics (flash) that fade-in and fade-out quickly can be quite pleasing to the eyes.
  • The teller could also display the available (or unavailable) currency denominations in the machine on user authentication. This will also alert the user before hand as to the available denominations in which he can withdraw.
  • A contact-less smart {proximity} card that stores vital information and configuration settings in encrypted format. This would result in longer card life and also allow the user to activate the teller without having to take the card out of the wallet.
These are some of things I came across over time. Have you felt the same? What are other features that you can think of that can help reduce time spent at the ATM?


At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent suggestions. Do you have touch screen ATMs where you go? In other countries, you have Fast Cash options that after you give your password, you can touch fast cash buttons of various amounts (500 rupees, 1000 rupees, etc.) and the card gets spit out after it has dispensed your cash. Quick and painless.... and significantly lesser keystrokes.
Defaults are good, but the user should have the ability to lock the defaults as a in point, I am unable to work my the smart-text option on my cell-phone. It's a pain to some, a blessing to others. Cuts both ways. 

Posted by Addu

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey idli
Im not sure how many people are aware that ATM actually stands for some obscure mathematics association...frankly the first thing I think of when I hear ATM other than the teller machine is Asynchronous Transfer Mode(remember many light years back we had a pain called Kathirvel who taught us something to that effect)on the other hand I don't want you to remember.Those are not very happy memories... 

Posted by saraansh

At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Adel,

Lot of the suggestions that you have given will not work. Things like , the option for the confirmation on the language is a must. Think of the time you have wasted in case you enter the wrong language. That person will have to go over the whole process again.

One more thing is that checking the transaction history and withdrawing the same amount time and again might be useful, but then again time taken to customise your settings and the time taken when you wanna withdraw a different amount will be high.

The height adjustment is also a good thought and it might be ergonomically good but ATM's are made taking into consideration the average height of a person. The height being adjusted for every single person is a total waste of time.

About the Proximity card, thats also a big problem, whe you have like 10 people in the queue think of what will happen. The fade in and fade out will also be pretty irritating at times and it would take atleast a second extra..

And saraansh, ATM does stand for Asynchronous Transfer Mode when it is taken in the networking point of view, but the public better knows it as Automatic teller machine which is much more catchier.

So Adel i think you should do a proper analysis of whatever you post before you actually do it....

Posted by Smoke

At 1:27 AM, Blogger adel said...


There are a few touch-screen ATMs that I've used here. Fast cash options are also available, although that requires an extra key stroke. What can be a possible solution is to have multiple choices like -

[1] Fast Cash
[2] Cash Withdrawal
[3] Last Transaction [Rs. xxx]

Last Transaction can be the recorded history of transaction. This would allow the user to withdraw the most frequently entered amount(as per his transaction history) at the click of a button.

User preferences like language, height, screen tilt are all stored in the card and are easily configurable on authentication.

Are you referring to T9 as smart-text on your cell phone? Even I find that a little lousy to use and prefer the normal alphanumeric entry for messaging. Maybe it will take a little getting used to if you want to appreciate it, but thats another usability issue altogether!


Actually, I prefer Any Time Money as a better acronym for ATM than Automated Teller Machine.
And please, Kathirvel and his class are the last things that I'd like to be reminded of now! (Remember the door closing ceremony that he religiously followed everyday after entering the class ;) )


A good feedback. I'll try and answer them in the best possible way -

Language - I dont really see a point in entering 'English' (or anything else for that matter) everytime I use the ATM. Avoiding that can significantly reduce the time spent on using the teller. Like you said, it can be an issue if I entered the wrong Language or I'm travelling and using ATMs in other countries. This can be overcome by putting a preferences option for the user and setting that as default. If you've noticed, the select language option is asked in English. If you, say by mistake, select a different language, you can always display an option either in English or as a recognisable icon that can be clicked and have your preferences changed.

Transaction history - check my reply to Addu (on top)

Teller height - Maitaining a standard (default) height according to the average height of the population (as it is now) is a good idea. However there are also differently abled people that exist (however small the percentage) that also use such services. I proposed the auto-height adjust keeping "those" people in mind. Accessibility for all.

Smart card - When I mentioned contact-less card, I did also mention proximity in brackets. Proximity cards are those that are activated (or read) only when they are bought very close (couple of centimeters) to the actuator or sensor. So having 10 or more people waiting in the queue does not hinder the system performance. It is very similar to the one you use in offices for access control. I also mentioned "Smart" implying that user settings and preferences can be stored in the card so that you get the same feel and service from any ATM that you may use.

At 6:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was a post I couldnt post here earlier due to technical issues, now resolved.

Good observation about the feasibility of Adel's suggestions. One point however; Adel is relating his experience, from his point of view. Regardless of the practicality of the suggestion, any product designer (in this case an ATM PD) would be delighted to hear such a laundry list of items an end-user wants.
A decent product design is an evolving process with the untimate end-product bearing, in very many cases, only some resemblance of the original idea that sparked it.
The tiltable screen and adjustable height features are improbable due to materials/cost consideration as high emphasis is placed on safety of cash inside the terminal. Providing such features would require a very fragile system that thieves can toy with. As for current ATMs, a sledgehammer would have to work very hard to get into the vault inside - hence the
limitation faced today. But someday, the external material could be light and resilient to make all of Adel's ATM dreams come true!

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Saraansh said...

"Any time money" is so pagan, and as smoke said, Automated Teller Machine sounds lot more sophisticated and catchy.Sorry not contributing to this discussion technically and thats coz really tired,we finished 5 shows of our play today.Check out some of the pics at my blog.

At 4:26 AM, Anonymous Sridhar said...

Instead of having different ATMs for each bank, I'd rather that there be one generic ATM that provides services to card holders of every bank. The kind of services provided can remain specific to each bank and that needs to be changed only at the application level. This would eliminate the need to locate an ATM of a particular bank and can also avoid paying transaction fees incase you use your card (VISA ELECTRON) in an ATM of another bank. That could be a significant feature - well, atleast for me! ;)

At 4:27 AM, Anonymous john said...

Ws jus goin thru the blogs after a tuf day's work , n KATHIRVEL was the last thing i wanted to think abt! rememba we share the same coll experiences ;) by the way FYI, its kathiravan n not kathirvel, guys :) actually it doesnt matter, kathirvel sounds worse compared to kathiravan, so let that remain. The worse, the better, when it comes to his name :) " in our country, all the peoples... " - does it strike a chord somewhere ?? ;)

At 5:16 AM, Blogger adel said...

John, I share your sentiments. If you were to sit back and recall all those moments in college, I'm sure you'd end up smiling! I'm glad we're through! Isn't it ironic?. Dont you think?

At 4:29 PM, Blogger payday loan said...

Does that make any sense to you? -the payday cash advance guy

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