On Doing One Thing Well

I keep meaning to write this post every time I go to the ATM.

Depending on your bank, you may have used a modernized ATM, e.g. one that has no envelopes for deposits, but instead, scans your checks and cash to determine the amount you’re depositing.

Pretty good idea, right? Cuts back on the manual process of opening all those deposit envelops, removes the overhead cost to print and stock those envelopes, removes the need for deposit slips, etc.

The problem is how much time it wastes for the end user and creates frustration. Based on my very unscientific research, a deposit now takes 5-10 times longer than it did with the old, dumb ATMs. The low end is for single check deposit that the machine successfully scans on the first try.

The high end is for the intensely frustrating process of trying over and over to get the machine to read all the bills in your deposit.

I’ve had both experiences over the past few months. One time it took me nearly 10 minutes to get the ATM to read all the bills I had in a deposit. If you’ve ever fought a vending machine over a crinkled bill, you’ll know the feeling.

Compare this to the relatively low tech, but predictable experience with a deposit envelope.

Another observation about these new machines: they’re slow and require relearning. With an old ATM, you can predict which buttons to press because the flow is pretty much the same. Plus, the UI is entirely text-based and very responsive.

Not so with the new machines, which introduce new flows, more buttons, and GUI elements. All this makes for a slower experience, even for fast operations like quick withdrawals.

Longer session times means queues build up behind you at the ATM, which is never a good time.

This is yet another example of the sacrifice of efficiency for features. I saw this many years ago when I worked on implementations that replaced old mainframe-based CLI tools, designed for fast data entry, with new sexy GUIs.

An old friend of mine continues to use Pico (a Pine-based mail client) to read his email. Why? He long ago mastered all the keystrokes and can fly through mail, without any of the trappings of a GUI. Plus, CLI is just faster and will always be.

The recent upgrade of my Nexus S to Android 4.0.4 (ICS) is yet another example, at least for me. The phone app is constantly misbehaving, making the device a substandard phone. A bit odd for a smartphone.

The common thread here is devices trying to do too much. I understand why. The ATM offers to save the effort of filling out a deposit slip. The invoicing system offers more information on a single screen in a more readable format. The smartphone offers a rainbow of other functions.

They’ve all expanded to do more for the user, but in doing so, they’ve lost sight of the primary functions the user came to expect, the most critical of which is speed.

Performance is a feature, probably the most undervalued one of all.

Anyway, have you encountered one of these new ATMs? Thoughts?

Find the comments.




  1. I think you’ve missed the point here. Remove the envelope and you remove the need for labor somewhere relatively near the ATM to open the envelope and deal with verifying the contents.

    If you are depositing checks the ATM scans the check, reads the amount off via OCR, asks you to verify the amount it read, and then shove it into a lock box. I’m not even certain that someone reviews every check, but if they do then by scanning them at the ATM they can offshore that to an entry level person in the lowest cost locality (India, China, Africa, etc).

    And doesn’t the bank get to remove the money from the account of person that wrote the check immediately upon it being deposited but not credit it to the depositor until the next business day? If so then the bank gets the float on that money.

    And finally, who deposits cash?

  2. That’s a bank problem, not a customer one. So, sure the bank saves money by passing the cost on to me, but in the end, this is just redistribution of cost. My time costs next to nothing to the bank, and you bet they don’t pass that savings on to me, unless I happen to be a shareholder. 

    And even then, I’m not compensated at the going rate for my time. Not even at minimum wage.

    So, the cost to the bank is negligible. The only way they lose money is if I’m so irritated that I take my money elsewhere, but even then, it’s a blip, unless I’m a huge investor. And if I’m a huge investor, there’s no way I do business at the ATM.

    I didn’t miss the point. I get the point. My time doesn’t matter to the bank, which is annoying to me.

    And I deposit cash sometimes. 


  3. And don’t forget that standing at an ATM for 10 minutes depositing checks makes someone VERY vulnerable.

    My wife and I let checks build up until we have enough to make a trip to the bank/ATM worth it, but then we have anywhere between 5-20 checks. Which means we can be at an ATM for at least 15 minutes. And anyone at an ATM for 15 minutes must have money, so we
    Become targets. And that sucks.

    Not to mention, as you point out, how much it sucks to be at an ATM for that long, or worse, behind someone.

    We’ve talked about this at length, and I hate it.

  4. Agreed. Reminds me of a related ATM failure. When I lived in Chicago, the closest ATM to me was very loud. At night, you could hear it from several blocks away, like a dinner bell for muggers.

    Of course, all this was done for the customers. Won’t someone please think of the customers?

  5. One of my tenants always pays in money orders.  The ATM can’t figure it out and asks me to put the amount in.  There aren’t any relevant instructions about money orders.

    One time, my wife put in several checks, then the ATM went down, then came up and spit out her card.  She immediately went in the bank in a panic, and they gave her some forms to fill out and told her it will take several days to reconcile.  They did not give her a good feeling about finding all the checks.

  6. Interesting. When USAA introduced that ability, I wondered about how accurate and potentially gamable it would be. 

  7. Hadn’t even thought of the money order problem, and the crash sounds like a really bad problem. All this adds up to passing the cost on to the customer, which is annoying, but expected. The really irritating piece is marketing it as a benefit. 

  8. I don’t deposit money enough into an ATM for it to bother me.  I have found the new OCR features very helpful.

    What about the time that it takes to find an envelope, pen, or deposit slip?  How many people try to fill them out in line and hold things up that way?

    Maybe my bank has solved the problem, but I don’t know that I have had to wait 10 minutes for a check.  I have direct deposit, so I don’t have to deposit as often.  I will have to notice on the next deposit how long it actually takes.  To me, it saves me the time and hassle of finding the necessary extra paperwork just to get a check in my account.

    Instead of ATM, I thought of the new Coca Cola machines.  I don’t know if you have used those in your area, but Burger King, Moe’s, and Firehouse Subs have them in our area.

    If you haven’t seen them yet, they have a touch screen that allows you to select your flavor of soda.  The cool part is that they off a number of different sodas plus added flavors like Cherry and Vanilla that mix in.  The disadvantage is that there is now only one nozzle so two people can’t use the machine at the same time.  Plus it takes longer for each person to select the drink they want.  Get behind a family of kids, and the machine quickly looses its novelty!

    If there was ever something that sacrificed performance for features, I would vote for the drink machine!

  9. I’m starting to see the logic here. The 80/20 rule means the bank only annoys a minority percentage of us, while everyone else is glad to avoid an envelope. Of course, people who deposit checks frequently long ago began to bring envelopes and deposit slips w them to avoid the hassle of which you speak.

    So, using that logic, the 80 is over-served.

    Don’t even get me started w the flow changes, e.g. spitting out the card at the beginning of the transaction. It’s like the design purposefully avoids any learned behavior that could be leveraged, guaranteeing that each person will take 10x longer.

    Haven’t seen the soda machines, but Redboxes have that problem. At least most people will step aside for a return, if they’re browsing titles. Touchscreens are everywhere, and the waiting problem will get worse before it gets better.

  10.  I’m thinking the card spit at beginning is probably a good thing, so many people in a hurry would grab money and leave card.  But then the receipt print processing takes even longer with images, and I’ve seen people take the receipt and leave the next receipt they don’t even know is coming.

    Odd thought of rf cards making people do a hip bump of atm machines.  Or worse with the card in the front pocket.

    The soda machines are pretty cool, especially for those of us who do things like put just a little cherry flavor in to fix the diet flavor.  The machines have the usual problems of being recalcitrant to certain touches, definitely a queuing problem with multiple users, too many choices for some users, and when any of several dozen flavors runs out, they have to replace the cartridge manually, then reboot the machine, with a whole on screen reset procedure like some inkjet printer cartridge replacements.

    One more kvetch about ATMs:  drive-through ones are often at odd angles, and I’ve hit touch screen fast-cash $200 when I wanted $100.  No “are you sure?” ’cause… it’s fast!

  11. Sure, it makes sense from a process perspective, but from a use perspective, it’s completely wrong. We’ve been trained to take the card at the end. So, when it pops out at the beginning, we think the machine is broken, or there’s a problem. It takes time to overcome learned behavior.

    You’re right about the drive-through angles. I’ve only used these a couple times, but they were at a very odd angle.

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