How the ATM is evolving in the COVID-19 world

Low angle view of African American businesswoman inserting credit card and withdrawing cash at ATM while wearing protective mask on her face.(Getty Images/iStockphoto/Drazen Zigic)

The COVID-19 pandemic has jump started the adoption of contactless payments — but for the most part, if you want cash, you still have to touch an ATM.

Mary Wisniewski at Bankrate told WTOP that will be changing, and probably quickly.

“One thing that we’re seeing with ATMs is a focus on using the mobile phone to pre-stage transactions,” Wisniewski said. “So instead of using your debit card, you’d be using your phone and then perhaps scanning a QR code at the ATM … so your phone basically becomes a remote control.”

Some banks, including Bank of America, PNC Bank and Wells Fargo, already let customers use their phone to control many of their ATMs.

There may be an increase in video teller options from banks as well, a service that has been available at some banks for years but hasn’t become a mainstream preference for consumers. Now it is seen as a way to reduce in-person interaction with branch tellers.

What about touching the cash itself?

“Cash for sure is dirty,” Wisniewski said, “but it is just best practice to wash your hands before you touch your face after handling something that somebody else has handled.”

The coronavirus pandemic has sped up new ways of looking at how the ATM is used. Simon Powley, head of advisory services at big ATM manufacturer Diebold Nixdorf, told Bankrate more ATM operators are expressing interest in the new technology.

“It was just further down the road map,” he said. “Now it is being moved up.”

Despite the general belief that cash is becoming less relevant, that’s not necessarily the case.

“People often want to use cash for their smaller dollar transactions, like getting their coffee,” Wisniewski said. “There are a lot of people without bank accounts who depend on cash.”

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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