Diebold Inc. and NCR Corp., long key players and staunch competitors in the automated teller machines market, are both firming up strategies for communicating with an ATM by cell phone or personal digital assistant.
The Ohio-based companies are banking that a generation comfortable with increasingly versatile communications devices will be interested in technology that helps them find an ATM or avoid waiting in a long line to complete a transaction.
Over the past two years, Diebold has won five U.S. patents for applications that enable mobile devices to interact directly with bank ATMs.
"It's more than a social trend, it's a global one," said Jim Block, Diebold director for global advanced technology. "More and more things are becoming centered on the cell phone."
Bob Tramontano, NCR vice president for self-service, said the company has been developing technology for linking hand-held communications devices with ATMs since 2001. NCR already uses such technology in Denmark and Singapore.
Genie Driskill, vice president and director of research at Atlanta-based Synergistics Research Corp., which tracks consumer trends in banking, said mobile banking is a hot trend.
"As awareness grows, you'll see consumers, particularly younger consumers, easily accept and adopt these types of technologies," Driskill said.
Many banks are either testing or have started mobile banking programs, which could involve ATMs, she said.
The Diebold patents involve allowing banking consumers to use their mobile devices to locate and get directions to the nearest ATM, order cash withdrawals remotely and generate various other transactions by linking to an ATM.
Diebold has estimated such applications will be widely available within three to five years.
"All of the ideas embodied in these patents actually came about before the phone was observed to be a ubiquitous, always-in-my-pocket sort of device," Block said.
As bank consumers get used to online banking from home on desktop computers, they may increasingly want similar ATM options, he said.
A one-time code the mobile device user would receive could then be entered when arriving at a specified ATM. The user could insert an ATM card and the one-time code, and the ATM would then know to complete the transaction, such as a cash withdrawal.
That one-time code could be an attraction to anyone who isn't comfortable about punching in a PIN code in a public place.
NCR's Tramontano said what may prove to be a popular benefit for the technology is that an ATM user can arrange to have an ATM receipt sent electronically to a cell phone or PDA.
"That way, if someone steals a card and uses it, it would show up, which is a proactive step to stop fraud," he said.