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The future of ATMs is contactless

The future of ATMs is contactless
(Image credit: Pexels)

Banks are essential businesses and ATM technicians are considered critical infrastructure workers, meaning ATMs haven’t been legally required to close during the pandemic. However, many ATMs did close due to decreased demand as people opt for contactless payment options to minimize their exposure to germs. According to a survey by the ATM industry trade association, ATMIA, nearly half of ATM deployers and vendors have only operated 75% of their machines during the pandemic, and 27% have operated less than half.

Meanwhile, contactless payments have continued gaining adoption, with more than half (51%) of Americans now using a touch-free payment method such as tap-to-go credit cards or mobile wallets like Apple Pay, a recent Mastercard poll found. Furthermore, 54% of Americans indicated that it is “very” or “extremely” important to be able to open or access their financial accounts in a contactless manner, according to a Mitek survey from September 2020. With consumers increasingly valuing contactless interactions, the old touch-to-operate ATMs around the world need to be quickly modernized to stay relevant.

Contactless ATMs need to remain convenient and secure

The most logical approach to achieve this is would be a combination of facial and voice recognition technologies. Facial recognition allows users to easily verify their identity without a physical interaction such as needing to insert their card or enter a PIN. Leveraging voice recognition or mobile phone integrations for commands would also help users avoid having to press buttons or a screen during their transaction. Smartphone integrations would also allow financial institutions to offer two-factor authentication (2FA) as an added layer of security. Because not all people have access to smartphones, however, financial institutions should ideally offer voice recognition and mobile integration as a backup or alternative to touch commands.

Regardless of whether 2FA is in place, having a reliable facial recognition solution is paramount. The solution needs to accommodate varying backlighting and have an adaptable focal length to capture high quality images regardless of the consumer’s angle, distance and background environment. To safeguard against potential fraud, these solutions also needs anti-spoofing capabilities, including:

  • Duress detection: Prevent the consumer from being forced to withdraw money by an attacker.
  • Liveness detection: Confirm that the consumer is alive and present; also prevent attackers from using a computer-generated deepfake to replicate the victim’s appearance and movements to try to gain access to their account.

Finally, the facial recognition solution needs to prioritize privacy, not just for users but also for the general public, given ATMs are often in public places. It needs to collect, store and use the biometric data responsibly as well as ensure the system cannot be used for general surveillance.

Financial institutions' solutions so far

Financial institutions have long been striving to reduce the contact required during ATM interactions, but it’s generally with the objective of enhancing convenience rather than eliminating contact entirely. For example, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase and Barclays all offer cardless ATM access, but those initiatives still require customers to enter their PIN into the ATM.

In June, Spain’s Caixabank announced plans to roll out more than 100 facial recognition-powered ATMs that enable users to withdraw cash without entering a PIN, but users still need to touch the ATM screen to enter the withdrawal amount.

Contactless solutions gaining momentum rely on users’ mobile devices

For example, Japan’s Seven Bank and NEC Corporation are working on a joint project to launch ATMs with facial recognition technology for identity management and a QR code reader for document authentication and commands. Users simply need to enter their personal information and scan a provided QR code through their phones, and then they can use their phones to send commands to the ATM. AGS Transact Technologies is also developing a similar solution in India.

Although this method of using facial recognition for identity verification and mobile devices for commands isn’t perfect – it still relies on mobile devices which aren’t ubiquitous – it’s the most likely contactless ATM system we’ll see in the future. It also leaves the door open for financial institutions to offer voice recognition as an alternate to mobile devices for commands.

Adding to the likelihood, ATMIA has rallied 325 ATM hardware and software vendors worldwide to focus on better integrating ATMs and mobile phones, as part of a broader mission to reinvent the ATM to accommodate COVID. Another interesting objective is making it more convenient for customers to pre-stage their ATM transactions on their mobile apps so they can conduct their business at ATMs in less than 10 seconds.

With new initiatives already underway, we will see a seismic shift in ATM technology and experiences over the coming years. As banks look to implement new digital options for touchless interactions, secure facial recognition and identity verification solutions will play a key role both in improving the customer experience and ensuring security isn’t sacrificed in the transition to contactless ATM transactions.

  • Stephen Ritter is Chief Technology Officer at Mitek.