Watch a Commercial, Avoid an ATM Fee


NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- It's an innovative concept – a free ATM that not only dispenses cash without those nasty $2 and $3 fees, but also dispenses video ads while you wait for your money to pop out.

debuted the new ATM in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y. with a unique twist – it will dispense cash to any bank customer and will skip the fee as long as the user agrees to watch a video advertisement from a third-party company that covers the fees users would normally incur for using the machine. You may be a captive audience for advertisers, but at least you won't be paying any fees to access your money.

Expect the trend to hit ATMs near you as the no-fee option catches on. ATM fees are a huge thorn in the side of bank customers – the average bank ATM fee stood at $2.33 in 2010.

And it gets worse. According to the Long Island, N.Y. credit union NEFCU, some big banks have been testing ATM fees in the $4 and $5 ranges targeted at non-customers.

No wonder people are marching in the streets protesting against big banks.

Here’s how the free ATM process works, according to the tutorial on the Free ATM website:

  • Before the Transaction: Free ATM NYC uses third-party advertising to attract customers, with a 15-inch video LCD screen to enter your personal financial information.
  • During the Transaction: While processing transactions, third-party advertisers broadcast video ads, much like many gas stations have started to do at the pumps. The ads are shown on a separate 10-inch digital LCD screen embedded in the ATM.
  • After the Transaction: After completing a transaction, customers receive branded receipts or coupons with the advertiser’s name or logo.

The owner of Free ATM NYC, 25-year-old Clinton Townsend, has ambitious plans for the concept. Eventually, he wants to bring the free ATM onto the turf of big banks, right in the heart of New York. First though, the company plans to roll out free ATMs in underserved areas in Harlem and Queens, where fees average up to $3 per transaction.

Townsend is going to need more advertisers – only a few have signed on so far – but the concept is an intriguing one for businesses. Like at a gas pump, consumers are a captive audience at an ATM, even if only for 30 to 60 seconds.

But that’s just enough time to sell a bar of soap or tickets to a show in New York. Big banks won’t like it, but tough luck. A free ATM is a breath of fresh air in a banking industry that has long seemed to suck all the profits it can off of its customers, so the trend could be here to stay.

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