For many bank patrons, most trips to a local branch offer the choice of speaking to a bank teller or using an automated teller machine or ATM. ATMs are common in populated areas, providing a source of cash and other banking services. However, there are also reasons that banks continue to employ tellers, only one of which is the human touch.
Bank tellers have been providing banking services for as long as banks have been around. Only their duties have changed over time. ATMs first appeared in the 1960s and spread quickly, becoming a standard feature of nearly all American banks by the 1990s. Computer technology has allowed banks to add additional functions and security features to ATMs. Today there are nearly 370,000 ATMs in the United States, according to MSNBC Technology Correspondent Bob Sullivan.
Many banks employ tellers who handle basic transactions, and senior level associates who help customers open accounts and handle more complex transactions. Tellers can cash checks, make deposits and withdrawals, provide account balance information and issue money orders. ATMs serve many of the same functions, accepting checks and cash for deposit, displaying account information and, most popularly, issuing cash.
One of the major factors that distinguishes ATMs from bank tellers is the level of convenience each provides. To perform a transaction with a bank teller, a customer must go to one of that bank's branches and wait in line for an available teller. ATMs, on the other hand, are spread out over a much wider geographic area. In addition to locations in bank lobbies, many banks offer ATMs on sidewalks, in stores and at drive-through banking windows to speed up the process of simple transactions.
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Bank customers who prefer using a human teller often cite the superior customer service. While ATMs remove some of the opportunity for human error, they can be difficult to use, especially for customers not familiar with computer interfaces. Bank tellers can answer questions and offer advice on possible solutions to a customer's banking needs. One benefit of ATMs is that the machines often function in several languages, giving non-English speaking customers an easier way to complete a transaction.
Another important difference between ATMs and bank tellers is the cost. Providing wages and benefits to tellers costs much more to a bank than installing an ATM, which may cost more initially but then functions 24 hours a day. Because of the added convenience, many banks install ATMs in each branch, while still employing a number of tellers to give customers an option. By handling the majority of small transactions, ATMs save banks a significant amount of money and also help attract new customers who find the ATMs convenience appealing.