ATMs aren't just for cash anymore.
Consumers at select banks around the country already can now knock off a few nettlesome errands--including buying stamps and phone cards--through automated teller machines. And bankers and industry analysts say consumers soon may be able to pick up concert and travel tickets, buy money orders and pay bills.
The latest evidence that bankers are eyeing ATMs as untapped sources of profit came this week with First Union's announcement that it is offering prepaid calling vouchers through 2,900 of its ATMs. The bank has offered postage stamps since January at 200 ATMs, a program it plans to expand to 1,000 machines year-end.
"We're actively looking to add new products," said Tony Hoppa, spokesman for First Union, which is the nation's sixth-largest bank and the third-largest in the Washington metropolitan area.
"We're looking for ways to let consumers combine several errands into one trip to the ATM," said Gary Bargeron, marketing director of First Union's ATM division, who said tickets and bill paying are just a few of the "options" the bank is exploring. "This is a way to increase revenue for the bank."
But consumers shouldn't expect ATMs to start dispensing milk and chewing gum. "Banks are basically cash machines and there's only so much they can do," said bank analyst Ron Mandle at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York.
Consumers can buy phone vouchers or stamps from a First Union machine even if they aren't customers of the bank, just as individuals don't have to be a bank's customer to use its ATM to get cash. The cost is deducted from their checking accounts.
Consumers should expect to be charged for the services, just as in many cases they are charged a fee to get cash from an ATM, bankers and analysts say.
Chevy Chase Bank is another that offers stamps through its ATMS, as does Wells Fargo. Others, such as NationsBank and Crestar, are considering offering these services.
Fifty-two First Union ATMs in the D.C. area offer phone vouchers. Three of those also offer stamps; their locations are:
3211 Fourth St. NE
620 Michigan Ave. NE
7812-A Georgia Ave. NW
(At Eastern Avenue)
Rates for First Union's:
Calling vouchers: 35 cents a minute for calls within the United States; you can call customer service for international rates.
Stamps: 18 stamps cost the equivalent of 20 stamps from the Postal Service.
SOURCE: First Union