Monday, July 27, 2009

Report From Hell- One of a Series

This time, it’s Bank of America.

They call them Versateller. Instant banking machines. I go to B of A to make a deposit. I occasionally get residual checks for reruns of shows I wrote a while back. I recently received one for sixteen cents. Some checks are for larger amounts.

B of A’s Santa Monica branch has four Instant Teller machines, two situated in the lobby at the front of the building, and two in the entranceway at the back. I go to the machines in the front.

The first machine says “Out of Service.” The second machine’s “deposit” bar is colored gray, indicating that that machine won’t take deposits either.

I exit the front of the building and walk to the back of the building, where the other two Instant Teller machines are located. The first machine accepts deposits, but it won’t process my checks. They sit there in the “deposit slot.” The machine won’t take them in.

The fourth machine works fine.

Two questions.

One: How does a bank allow three of its four Instant Teller machines not to function?

Two: Why is it always the last one that works?

3 comments:

MikeThe Blogger said...

WOW!, They still got banks in America?

Jon Delfin said...

If you'd gone to the working machine first, would you have checked the others?

steve macdonald said...

I only see one nonfunctioning machine out of the four.

1. The first machine probably says “Out of Service” because it’s out of cash. It’s a weekend, a high-ATM traffic location (which is why that branch has four machines to begin with), and the geography is such that this is the first machine everybody passes (so it empties out first). Or possibly a bill miss-fed or tore while being dispensed, causing it to shut down and await service.

2. The second machine still dispenses cash (which is what 90 percent of it’s transactions likely are anyway). It might not accept deposits because the last depositor’s check jammed or ripped as it fed into the machine. These machines are full of cogs and wheels and sensors and are designed to shut down at the first sign of trouble, rather than risk making whatever the problem is worse. It might be waiting on a part to make the deposit system fully functional. Just like for your car, ATM parts sometimes are on back order.

3. The third machine “...accepts deposits, but it won’t process my checks,” you say? Well, unless you saw it accept someone else’s checks or cash, it probably has the same problem as machine number 2. You know, unless you need cash back from your deposit, you can use the branch’s night drop slot. Either way, your account is credited the same time: When the entire computer system does it’s daily update. The ATM, like any human teller during regular hours, gives you provisional credit with your receipt. The funds actually go into your account only when the physical check and deposit slip are processed at the Operations Center. There, the magnetic ink on the bottom of the debits and credits is read and ingested by the computer that keeps track of the accounts.

So the real question is, why were two of the branch’s four ATM’s unable to accept your deposit? The answer is maintenance issues of one sort or another. Like your cars, ATMs come in different models and from different manufacturers, and so parts are not fully interchangeable.

The bank has probably cut back it’s budget for ATM maintenance. As you may have heard, things have been a bit sticky for banks lately, and budgets like this get squeezed along with everything else. Keep in mind that the operations side of banking rarely, if ever pays for itself. It’s the lending side of the business that makes all the profits. The brick and mortar facilities, the human tellers, bookkeepers, supervisors, and such are necessary expenses for the bank, but they don’t directly produce revenue. Charging you 18% on your Visa balance or 7.5% for your car loan is where the bank makes it’s money. They only process your residual checks, accept your rolled coin, sell you money orders and savings bonds, and convert your Canadian currency because they have to. The fees they charge for some of those things just barely covers the cost involved in providing them.

Disclosure: I worked in back shop operations at BofA (in Arizona) for fifteen years. I never worked directly with ATMs, but I did work in areas that interfaced in one fashion or another with the machines. My wife at the time (mid 1980’s) worked in the department that balanced ATMs. Things might have changed since I left the bank six or eight years ago, but my explanations/guesses above are probably pretty close.

I found banking to be a dismal business. These days I stock grocery shelves for Kroger. (See where ten years at ASU can get you? Maybe I should have graduated.) My work now is much more pleasant, the pay is about the same, and, unlike in banking, I’m a proud union member.