Commentary

Saunders: Less than $20 in your account? Withdraw it at some ATMs

bsaunders@newsobserver.comOctober 2, 2013 

Cyber Thefts

In this file photo, a person inserts a debit card into an ATM machine.

GENE J. PUSKAR — AP

It is, to be sure, a perverse keepsake, something that no one should want to hold onto. It’s like keeping the first tooth you ever lost in a drunken brawl.

It’s not a tooth that I’m holding onto at this moment, though. It’s a receipt from a Greensboro bank’s ATM dated Jan. 28, 1984, and it tells the sad story of a broke, busted and disgusted newspaper publisher: me.

I was in Greensboro, visiting my second ex-fiancée – and no doubt fleeing creditors back in Rockingham – when I withdrew $10 from the machine and took my receipt. The remaining balance in my checking account, the receipt mockingly proclaimed, was $.01.

Yep, a penny.

Of course, I’m not counting the money I had in stock portfolios and savings and offshore accounts and in the ashtray of my 1977 Ford Maverick. When you add all of that to the mix, the amount of money I actually had was – oops, still $.01.

For the past several years, It would have been impossible to get that $10 from a bank automated teller machine, since they were only stocked with $20s. Now, not only would I be able to get the $10; at PNC Bank, a spokeswoman said, I could get $1s, $10s and $20s.

At Chase ATMs, I could even get the penny, as well as denominations of $10s, $20s, $50s and $100s.

‘Smart’ ATMs

The PNC spokeswoman, citing company policy, didn’t want to be named, but she said the bank recently finished installing 32 “smart” ATMs in the Triangle and 159 statewide.

“We’re always trying to do things for the convenience of our customers,” she said.

Those smart ATMs are perfect for nearly broke customers, because nothing is less convenient or more demoralizing than staring at one of the unsmart ATM screens when you’re hungry or out of gas or some bloke in a motorcycle helmet is behind you with a gun demanding money and seeing that you have $19 – but the machine has only $20.

Once he sees that you only have $20, he may still be angry, though, since in many ways, a 20 is the new one. With both, as soon as you break it, it’s gone.

Bad for tellers?

In a story earlier this year on Today.com, a Chase spokesman said the fact that many customers now want to cash checks at ATMs makes the ability to dispense small bills, even change, necessary.

That’s probably true, but it also lessens the need for bank tellers, who could be out of a job if the ATMs start performing such functions as cashing checks.

Although the smart ATMs are allowing the banks to reduce their numbers of employees, the new functions are also probably a concession to current economic realities.

Do you remember that recession from which we’re supposed to be emerging? I’m guessing that at times during that period, some of us didn’t have a full $20 in our account.

Oh yeah: It was about a month after I withdrew my last folding money from the bank ATM that my ex-fiancée called off the wedding.

Hmm, I wonder if she saw that receipt?

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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