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The Downside of a Wide Paintbrush
Fall is the time of the year that I normally do my exterior home painting and touchup. During the summer, I noticed that my deck and stair metal support poles were a bit dull and had some rust spots, so that was to be my project. The poles have a 4-inch diameter, so I was in a bit of a quandary over the best width paintbrush to use—a 2-inch or a 4-inch. The 4-inch brush would provide faster coverage so my football-game-watching time wouldn't be compromised, but the 2-inch brush would give me greater control and reduce drips and splatters. I went with the expedient choice, and it turned out to be a mistake, as my coverage was uneven with plenty of drips and splatters.
I mention this story because I recently appeared at the National ATM Council's (NAC) annual conference. NAC is an industry trade organization representing nonfinancial-institution ATM owners/operators in the United States. I was asked to speak primarily about the Fed's research into the use of cash as well as the current chip card and terminal deployment status. After my presentation and in the subsequent days of the conference, I was approached by a number of owners/operators telling me that their banks had recently terminated their longstanding relationships; they were deemed to be "high risk" since they were in the currency business. Many were scrambling to establish new banking relationships and wondering why this was happening.
Being an old ATM guy, I was a bit surprised hearing about this action due to the built-in controls on ATM currency settlement and reconciliation that severely limit the ability for an ATM owner/operator to launder money through an ATM. It would be very easy for the bank to spot an imbalance if the money being replenished far exceeded the currency paid out by the ATM. There is still the concern, of course, regarding the initial load (deposit) to establish the account to ensure that those are legitimate funds, but that concern exists with the establishment of all banking relationships by any type of business.
Financial institutions certainly have the obligation to develop a risk management strategy and determine which types of business activities they deem acceptable versus those considered high risk. Supporting ATM operators with their currency needs could be considered a niche business with some unique requirements and may not be the best allocation of resources for all financial institutions. At the same time, bankers may not want to paint a business with the wide brush of "high risk" just because they deal with currency as a major part of their business operation. To do so may force many of these operators to shutter their units, which often are located in areas where there is not a wide choice of ATM locations.
By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed