Despite the proliferation of e-commerce, digital payment platforms, and digital investment portfolios, cash remains the fundamental glue that holds a diverse financial ecosystem together. “What we hear time and time again is that cash has intrinsic values that other payment forms don’t offer,” says Brad Nolan, Executive Vice President of Allpoint Solutions at Cardtronics, the world’s largest ATM operator. “It’s easy, it’s convenient, it’s accepted everywhere, and it’s secure. You can’t hack cash, at least not yet.”

It’s hard to buy a beer with your Uber balance

There’s a reason a fat stack of bills remains the most iconic symbol of wealth. It represents infinitely flexible buying power. So, the question is not why we still need cash in a digital economy. The question is, how can the digital economy integrate with a world where cash is king? “There is room for a variety of payment mechanisms in the ecosystem and they can all complement one another,” says Nolan. “One of the newer challenges we’re working on at Cardtronics is making it easier and faster for consumers to add and remove cash from their various digital wallets through a set of mobile APIs that will allow fintech providers to directly interact with our ATMs.”

The question is not why we still need cash in a digital economy. The question is, how can the digital economy integrate with a world where cash is king?

The goal is to turn the ATM into a universal gateway that connects the physical world of cash with an ever-expanding array of digital fintech offerings. “There’s a huge opportunity and potential in bridging the physical-digital divide,” says Steve Nogalo, Executive Vice President of North America Financial Institutions at Cardtronics. “And that’s exactly what we’re doing with these APIs that unlock new transaction types and allow people to interact with ATMs via their mobile phone. It’s all about making it easy and convenient to do as many things as possible at a single point of contact.”

Transforming the ATM network

There are a lot of big ideas and possibilities wrapped up in this. Some, like the ability to choose the denominations of bills you receive, you may have already seen in action at one of Cardtronics’ 225,000 ATMs. Others may be invisible to the average consumer, but can be a huge boon to retail partners, like cash recycling technology that lets retailors use customer-facing ATMs to not only drive foot traffic but also buy and sell their own cash drawers at the beginning and end of day. 

Underlying all of this is a common thread of connectivity. It’s about connecting one digital product to another and connecting the entire system together with a platform and network that meets today’s needs. Needs that are very different from those envisioned when the first ATM networks were rolled out more than half a century ago.

Perhaps most importantly of all, it’s about connecting consumers, financial institutions, and retailors together in partnership, something that Cardtronics does better than anyone else in the field. “Building partnerships with and between financial institutions and retailors to deliver high quality ATM services is really core to what we do,” says Nogalo.