ATMs need more than cash withdrawals—loan approvals are one such innovation
Given the government’s push towards digital transactions—BHIM and Aadhaar Pay are expected to cover a broader spectrum of smartphone and feature phone users—what roles ATMs would play was a question frequently asked. ATMs saw long queues during the days when there were restrictions on withdrawals during the demonetisation period, but as the reach of digital platforms has widened, they might have lost some of even their pre-demonetisation utility. However, now banks have found a new use for ATMs, beyond plain vanilla cash dispensing. After HDFC, as per The Times of India report, ICICI would become the second bank to offer loans via ATMs to its customers. The pre-approved loan offers of amounts between `1 lakh and `15 lakh that are available to you over the phone would also be a feature in the ATMs. But this is not the only innovation the ATM system is adopting—some have also been doubling up as cash deposit machines and banks have been deploying separate machines for cheque deposit and passbook updating.
Technology could make ATMs smarter still—fix an artificial intelligence entity and ATMs can also answer a few queries. But, the big question is: Can they double up as bank branches? The idea may sound absurd, but RBI had also spoken of something similar last year. The central bank, in a report, had talked about the idea of treating an ATM, with a bank employee for support, as the equivalent of a branch. While that would help save costs for banks, which are required to have one rural branch for every four they have in urban areas, it would also help them service their clients better. Whether this becomes a rule or not is unclear, but smarter ATMs would certainly limit the trips people make to the bank.