Instant Free: just add ads.

One of the things I noticed after arriving in America from the UK was that ATMs charge you a fee, and not a small one either. If I want $20, I have to pay $3. In Vegas recently, I had to pay $6!

Annoyingly, even your own bank stings you with the very card they issued you – without any goodwill for their loyal customers. That’s very unusual in the UK where most of the ATMs are free, except for a few private ones in convenience stores.

American banks complain that their overhead for providing the privilege of easy cash to their customers is simply too high to offer it for free – yet ATMs play a crucial role in the circulation of currency, which rolls up to the greater health of the local economy. So important is this, in fact, that UK banks underwrite the fees so as not to deter customers from making impulse withdrawals.

Held to ransom for unnecessary ATM fees that other countries do not charge.

Held to ransom for unnecessary ATM fees that other countries do not charge.

In the meantime, back to America: where I have found it to be lagging behind other countries as far as the variety of available payment options is concerned. Americans love their cash, and also that magnetic strip on their ATM cards just won’t die even though the UK has had contactless debit cards for years and chip-and-pin for several more.

Well, I recently met two passionate young entrepreneurs who hope to put a stop to this opportunistic fleecing of the public. Their name? You guessed it, “FreeATM“.

Founders Clinton and Eric challenged the necessity of these fees, that everyone else had just accepted, and decided to apply the age-old freemium model to the machines – that is offer the service for free but show ads on screens.

It’s not rocket science; the ATMs display ads on them. From the advertising revenue, stores take a share and FreeATM takes a share. But what Clinton and Eric have done superbly is apply their appreciation for slick technology. Here are some of their approaches:

  1. A crisp hi-res screen on top. This screen is roughly at eye level, in front of your face, when you approach. You can’t miss it. Full color video ads are displayed. You can see them when you walk by even if you’re not getting cash, and this equates to added impressions.
  2. Ads built into the ATM interface itself. If you’re looking for cash, you will be staring at this area for a majority of the transaction. Ads are strategically placed at the start and during the momentary wait for the cash to be dispensed.
  3. The receipt comes out with ads or coupons printed on the back.
  4. NFC and QR code integrated into the physical unit to enable the scanning of devices for content or special offers – and these are built on a platform to always ensure the content you receive is linked to the ad playing.
  5. They’ve integrated with the Kinetic Active Exchange meaning that advertisers can now include them in programmatic audience digital out-of-home media buys.

Probably most valuable of all is the data they have access to. FreeATM are among the few folks who get to see how much cash is being drawn, what denominations, near what stores and how frequently. With studies to show that a majority of cash drawn from ATMs is spent almost immediately, it can offer day-parted insights into what kind of customers are shopping, and how much they are spending.

Not to mention impressions and dwell time that are measured more accurately because we know precisely how many transactions were made. I am attracted to good data like a moth to a flame, and am always excited to find companies who innovate here.

Particularly if you reside in New York, keep a look out for these free ATMs around town, now nearing 50 and growing rapidly. See their locations here: http://www.freeatm.com/#!locations/c1mm5

Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens are where they are now, but expect a rapid expansion across the country in the months to come.

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