The Slowest ATM in the World

line for atm
When the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 hit, two quick-thinking employees of Amadeo Giannini’s fledgling Bank of
Italy rescued $80,000 in gold from the vault before the ensuing firestorm that swept the city consumed the building.
Giannini loaded the bullion onto a horse cart, hidden under a pile of vegetables, and moved his operation to a makeshift plank-and-barrel location in North Beach. Other banks in the city would be unable to access their vaults for weeks, as they might as well have been freshly plucked from a blast furnace. Giannini, open for business the next day, offered loans to anyone with a job, “on a face and a name.” He is credited with helping to rapidly rebuild the city in the wake of the disaster.

Giannini, who squarely targeted the working class, went on to popularize home mortages, auto loans, and opened branch offices throughout California. Later renamed Bank of America, now the largest bank in the world, he was also the first to offer credit cards to his customers. Known to take risks, Giannini lent Walt Disney $2 million to make Snow White, financed Gone With The Wind and the Golden Gate bridge, and backed the California wine industry. In Frank Capra’s classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” the protagonist, George Bailey (James Stewart), is based in part on Giannini.

Fast forward 100 years. When I moved to the DC area I picked Bank of America for one specific reason: breadth. I like to travel, and I can go just about anywhere and find a branch with an ATM and not have to pay those ridiculous fees just to withdraw some cash. But trouble started brewing a few months ago when I moved to Silver Spring.

The branch office here is right downtown. Revitalized, it is a popular destination for shopping, food and drink, movies, you name it. Yet they only have one ATM. And it is the slowest ATM in the world (if it works at all). Now everyone has run across one that is having network problems, but usually it is fixed in short order. Not this one. I’ve been frustrated with it ever since I moved here. There is always a line, ALWAYS. One day I waited close to twenty minutes, standing in the sun and heat. Incredible. When you put your card in it sits there for a bit and then it says “Please put in your card.” Once you get past entering your PIN then the fun really starts. I generally opt for fast cash—fast my ass. When you select an amount, the thing goes “Processing your transaction…” with those little moving bars that are supposed to remind you it’s actually doing something: for like 2, 3 minutes. Unbelievable. Another minute each to spit back your card, the cash and your receipt.

Once, after waiting way too long yet again, I got up there just in time for the guy inside to decide it was time to try and fix it. While my card was in the machine, he rebooted it. Did anyone come outside and say, we’re going to be doing maintenance on the ATM? Hell no. I watched it reboot countless times, I know the BIOS, the OS, way more about that thing then is probably wise from a security standpoint. There were at least a half a dozen people in line behind me. I finally got my card back and I went inside. I picked the biggest, fanciest office and walked right in there and said, “Don’t you people care about customer service?” “What do you mean?” the guy says. “You have one ATM for all your customers, it never works, or if it does it takes forever to do a transaction.” “Oh yeah,” the guy says, “he’s working on it right now.” I left in disgust.

A few weeks later I was standing in line (again) and this guy walks by and says, “Why are you people standing in line like this? You should go in and complain.” “I did,” I said and encouraged everyone else to do the same.

Hello, McFly? Install at least a second ATM and for the love of god fix the one you already have. Giannini would be rolling over in his grave if he witnessed this kind of service.

3 Comments so far

  1. john (unregistered) on August 7th, 2006 @ 10:23 pm

    Open an account with PNC bank…they offer free ATMs anywhere in the world (you don’t get charged a fee by PNC for using an ATM outside of the netork and they refund the ATM fee from the other ATM = FREE ATMs!)
    I just switched from Chevy Chase to PNC because of this.

  2. Doug (unregistered) on August 7th, 2006 @ 10:36 pm

    Of course I’ve thought of dumping BofA, but ordinarily I get great service from them. The Silver Spring branch just happens to be poorly managed, or treated like bottom feeders by the corporate hierarchy. Who knows. What makes me angry is it’s such a simple thing, they should be able to easily look at the demographics and statistics for the community and conclude, yes, we need more than one ATM, and yes, we should allocate more resources towards maintaining these services. The lines for live tellers are just as bad. The place is either neglected by upper management, or poorly managed internally.

  3. Doug (unregistered) on August 9th, 2006 @ 6:32 pm

    Shock and amazement! Although I highly doubt it had anything to do with this rant, when I went to the same ATM today: a) there was no line, and b) it actually worked and was responsive like an ATM should be. The whole thing took less than a minute. Way to go BofA. Too bad it only took you three months to fix it, and I still say you need a second one.

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