Independent ATM Industry Takes Its Stand

Posted On: 11/27/2018

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I'm writing this on the way home from the National ATM Council's 6th annual NAC conference, held at Bally's Las Vegas Hotel and Casino from October 16 through 18. The National ATM Council represents the business interests of ATM owners, operators and suppliers in their efforts to provide safe, secure and convenient delivery of cash to consumers throughout the United States. This is their mission statement, and it's no easy feat. In my humble opinion, the young trade association is off to a very successful start.

After 30 years of covering the fast- evolving vending, music and amusements industry and cutting my teeth on this business, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of automatic retailing, but boy, did I get an education here! These are not your daddy's automatic teller machines. If you're in the vending, micromarket, office refreshment or "coin-op" entertainment business and are looking for a new revenue stream, you owe it yourself to explore this opportunity. Providing access to cash is a "convenience service," after all!

The times are changing, and the association has demonstrated its ability to convey its message to government. In fact, as I was learning about the present state of cash, banking relationships, recycling, compliance and buying and selling bitcoin (the kiosk serves as the vehicle for trading), the association had just sent a letter to the Federal Reserve explaining why ATM services are crucial to many people who depend on cash.

"Independent ATMs serve the community," said NAC executive director and counsel Bruce Renard. "To survive as a group, we need our bank accounts [a reference to the Department of Justice actions, summarized as "Operation Choke Point," to discourage banks from making substantial cash transactions] and we are ready to take our message to Capitol Hill."

The association has proven that it can play a major role in halting the blacklisting of ATM companies, and tell Congress that "we matter." The passion and enthusiasm were palpable and very refreshing. If you're a member of the National Automatic Merchandising Association, Amusement and Music Operators Association, National Bulk Vendors Association or American Amusement Machine Association, you know there is strength in numbers and power in advocacy. No one of us is as strong as all of us, and the long history of our trade associations offers uncountable examples of this power.

If you're reading this and thinking cash is dead, you should have been in the room. For one thing, cash purchases don't require electricity (not even a battery); for another, not everyone has a smartphone or a credit card. Cash purchases also pose a lower risk of fraud. Even PayPal's chief executive officer has been quoted as saying he doesn't believe there will ever be a time when everyone will have a mobile phone.

And if you're looking for alternate sources of revenue to supplement an existing ATM business, NAC 2018 was the place to be. From cryptocurrency to gift cards – there's an app for that, and the pace of change is increasing. As association chairman George Sarantopoulos pointed out, "evolution is the DNA of all businesses, including the ATM industry." He believes we must embrace change to remain relevant, and he surely was right in emphasizing that this year's conference showcased diversity in both technology and in operations.

Sarantopoulos runs Access One Solutions in Brooklyn, NY, and as an ATM owner, operator and service provider has experienced his share of challenges. Notwithstanding these, he is one of the biggest cheerleaders for the industry (and a heck of a nice guy!)

I made new friends at the show, and ran into some old comrades at the Smart Software and Lock America (LAI Group) exhibits, and from Lieberman Cos. (Minneapolis, MN) and Venco Business Solutions (Bland, VA), who visited the show. So did NBVA immediate past-president Steve Schechner, Capital Vending (Florence, AL), whom I spotted at several seminars.

One of my long-time colleagues from the distribution business took the time to help me understand the structure of the ATM industry which includes machine manufacturers, processors or networks, independent service organizations (ISOs) like Lieberman, Venco and PDQ and equipment owners ("sub-ISOs"), which we would call operators. Thank you, Dan Lieberman! If I left someone out or got something wrong, please accept my apologies in advance. I too am still learning, and hope to share some of this knowledge with our readers.

I'm off to the NAMA Coffee, Tea & Water Conference and the IAAPA Expo in November, and I hope to see you on the circuit. You owe it to yourselves to get out there and stay alert to what's happening. If you're not moving forward, you're drifting backward.