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Nationwide: flagging up fee�charging ATMs

3rd October 2005
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Nationwide Building Society has established a new, unambiguous visual signage system to help customers distinguish between free-to-use and fee-charging ATMs. In doing so, the lender has thrown down the gauntlet to other ATM operators, in particular to those that charge fees, to follow its lead and give a clearer message to consumers.

Having campaigned for the introduction of clearer signage on fee-charging ATMs for some time, Nationwide Building Society has announced plans to introduce clear and unambiguous labeling on all of its cash dispensers. Indeed, the lender's new 'visible-at-a-glance' signage aims to make fee-charging ATMs easily distinguishable from free-to-use ones. Green labeling stands for free ATMs and red for fee-charging units.

The clearer signage follows MPs' recommendations that operators should display warning labels that make it easy for consumers to see from a distance which ATMs charge a fee. According to Nationwide, the number of fee-charging ATMs increased significantly during 2003/2004 and they now cost UK consumers about GBP60 million annually.

Nationwide's move is also in line with its criticism that certain fee-charging ATMs have pursued an overly aggressive expansion strategy. One of these is Cardpoint, which converted 275 of the 816 ATMs bought from HBOS to its fee-charging model. The operator's CEO, Mark Mills, made waves when he stated that the company would meet profit forecasts thanks to higher-than-expected returns on their 275 converted ATMs.

Nationwide is currently calling for the whole ATM industry to adopt the clearer green or red signage. With more than a third of ATMs in the UK charging a fee for withdrawing cash, consumers would benefit considerably if the rest of the industry were to follow. Research shows that a significant proportion of ATM users do not realize they have to look for a sign notifying them if the machine is free to use or not.

While the UK government has backed the legitimacy of fee-charging ATMs as an acceptable aspect of a free and open market, it is right that vendors make every reasonable effort to educate consumers of any costs involved at-the-point-of-use. With this in mind, Nationwide's action is likely to benefit consumers considerably. Furthermore, it should encourage other players to stop dragging their heels and give the consumer a fairer deal sooner rather than later.

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