Japan's ATMs on the move to cater for ageing population's needs

Vehicle-mounted ATMs bring services to elderly customers in rural areas

A man uses an ATM machine of Mizuho Bank as pedestrians walk past at a train station in Tokyo November 13, 2013. Japan's Mizuho Financial Group said net profit jumped 133.2 percent in the first half of its financial year compared with a year ago, driven by a rally in stocks that boosted the value of its equity portfolio. Picture taken November 13, 2013. REUTERS/Yuya Shino (JAPAN - Tags: BUSINESS) - GM1E9BE15ZM01
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An increasing number of regional banks in Japan are introducing automated teller machines mounted on vehicles to cater mainly to elderly people living in remote areas with no bank-branch ATMs.

In Japan, many elderly customers still use passbooks instead of cash cards to keep track of their payments. In many cases, workers from regional lenders visit customers’ homes, bring back their passbooks for an update and return them to the customers. A mobile ATM with passbook update functions will mean bank employees will no longer have to do such duties.

Shimane Shinkin Bank in Shimane Prefecture introduced an ATM van in early December. Using the vehicle, the bank visits schools, community centres, nursing facilities and other locations to offer banking services. The ATM van will offer deposit, withdrawal and payment services.

The ATM van also offers a passbook update service, which convenience-store ATMs do not. The bank operates only one ATM van and has no specific plans to increase that, the operations department deputy general manager Yoshihiro Adachi told The National. "However, we will take customer requests into consideration after the introduction" of the ATM van, Mr Adachi said last month ahead of the launch.

Oki Electric Industry, the developer of the ATM van, says the vehicle will be able to access mountainous areas where there are many narrow roads. The ATM van costs about ¥10 million (Dh324,000 per unit, about one-fifth of the figure for a larger truck-type. The company aims to sell 1,000 units of the ATM van over three years, only in Japan.

"At present, we have no plans to sell the vehicles overseas," the Oki information officer Tsubomi Katsu tells The National.

The use of ATM trucks that can offer financial consultation services as well has also been spreading. Nanto Bank in Nara Prefecture introduced an ATM truck in July to mainly visit municipal offices. The bank plans to introduce one additional such truck, the assistant manager Akira Ohigashi tells The National. "We are considering also using them at local events and housing exhibitions," he says.

Bank of Kyoto introduced an ATM truck in June, aiming to use it to acquire new clients at event venues and allow customers to withdraw money at locations hit by disasters, The Japan Times reported.

Mike Lee, the chief executive of the US-based ATM Industry Association, a global not-for-profit trade association which was founded in 1997 and boasts over 10,000 individual members in more than 70 countries, tells The National that mobile ATMs are very effective.

"For example, in Poland, Idea Bank has a fleet of ATM cars which operate like an Uber service for cash – the customer can summon an ATM car like an Uber taxi," Mr Lee says.

Depopulation of remote areas is a serious issue in many demographically ageing societies in the world and is going to be a big problem in the future, too, Mr Lee says. "The mobile ATM is one way of providing services to shrinking communities where it is not feasible to have a full bank branch," he says.

For banks it is important to have channels they think they can control (or mostly control) to finalise "client present" transactions, Bernardo Batiz-Lazo, a professor of business history and bank management at Bangor University in Wales, tells The National. As opposed to mobile or telephone banking, prone to cybercrime, a mobile ATM can be a good and safe substitute for a bank or a regular ATM, Mr Batiz-Lazo says.

"Although it is unlikely to be used to service huge numbers of customers," he adds.