envelope-free ATMs

last friday, i had an interesting experience with a new way of doing something old: a faster, easier way of depositing checks at the ATM.

you know the drill: you’ve got some checks to deposit, so you head to the nearest bank to take care of business. if you’re me (i.e., obsessive compulsive), you prepare in advance for your mission:

  1. endorse your checks (for deposit only!)
  2. tally up the total and write it on a Post-It
  3. put a pen in your pocket (because there’s never one at the ATM)
  4. go to the ATM
  5. pull an envelope out of the machine
  6. put the checks inside the envelope and seal it
  7. write the deposit total on the envelope
  8. insert card, enter PIN
  9. do the deal and stick the envelope in the slot

fully expecting to run through this routine, i went to the Safeway near my office. i ponied up to the ATM in search of an envelope and found none. no slot to hold them, inside or outside the ATM. i walked over to the teller area (this Wells Fargo was inside Safeway, for non-California readers), thinking i’d find envelopes there, but nothing. nada. zipperino. no envelopes.

thinking i must be stupid, i went back to the ATM and looked closely. these were new-fangled looking ATMs with a sticker across the front that said (you guessed it): "Envelope-free ATM." huh? what the *&!% is an envelope-free ATM? ATMs always have envelopes. does that mean i can’t make deposits? if that’s it, why don’t they call it a "No-deposit ATM"? (actually, don’t they have those and call them exactly that?). at this point, i have descended into complete stupidity, because it took me another 30 seconds spent staring at the machine (with a glisten of drool at my open mouth) before the wires got connected in my brain: "Oh! they must mean i can deposit my checks without an envelope.".

sure enough, you enter PIN and choose deposit, then just stick your entire stack of checks into the open, blinking slot (yes, all at once, not one at a time). it accepts them, closes, tells you that it’s reviewing your checks, pulls up little scanned images, then shows you the actual dollar total on the screen and asks you if that’s correct. it was, and that was that: envelope-free deposit. with one fell user-experience swoop, Wells Fargo has slain the deposit-hassle beast: no more totaling your checks. no more calculator and Post-It note with the total. no more pen in your pocket. no more envelope. just easy sailing. (Wells Fargo should be paying me for this…)

as amazing as this whole experience was, i walked away from the ATM a little dazed. it was really confusing. it wasn’t that it was hard. not at all. it’s just that the new experience totally defied my expectation of what i was supposed to be doing. i’ve been depositing checks using envelopes for about 30 years, and i had to cross the chasm of disbelief to realize that i didn’t need to do that this time. they probably could have made the signage better, but short of having someone stand there to tell you what to do, i don’t know what else they could do to make it easier. once i realized what was what, it was pretty easy. it was just that initial what-the-!&%$-is-going-on hurdle that was the hard part.

the whole thing just struck me as really odd, because i couldn’t remember the last time i had something like this happen, where a very established way of doing something in the real world is summarily replaced, without warning or explanation. i’m sure this happened all the time during the industrial revolution, and throughout the last 30 years of technological advancement…i just can’t think of another clear instance of this type of thing in my own life. i’m sure many of you out there have examples to share, so drag them out…let me know the last time you had a completely expectation-defying-yet-wonderful real-world experience like this!! (computers don’t count…they defy expectations as a matter of course.)

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One thought on “envelope-free ATMs

  1. Rebecca Green

    I’m a Wells Fargo customer and I am very fond of those new ATMs. In addition to what you described above, I appreciate the option to get a receipt printed with mini-images of your deposited checks. That, and I once put my stack of checks into the slot with the wrong orientation – yet the machine still read them accurately!

    Speaking of ATMs, in my industry (speech recognition for automated telephone services) we frequently draw the parallel between live call center agents and live bank tellers. If our technology works, and is easy to use, it is believed that people generally prefer to use automated systems over the phone for simple transactions – just as they prefer to use an ATM instead of standing in line at the bank just to deposit a few checks. That said, I think a lot of callers later find that established touch-tone applications have been replaced by speech recognition systems “without warning or explanation” and the benefits don’t always make immediate sense. Nevertheless, the new technology over the same medium often does enable a wide new set of capabilities that might rock somebody’s world in just the way that your world was rocked last Friday.


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