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May 12, 2006 12:03 AM

Broken: ATM options

Andrew Skegg from Australia writes:

I went to the nearest ATM to withdraw some cash. I only needed $20 for lunch, so that's what I selected.


The machine then showed the message seen below, "Sorry, unable to issue $20. Please enter multiples of $50."


Why give the $20 option or mulitiples of $20 when the option is unavailable?

If the machine knows it is out of $20 notes, then the options that are unavailable should not be shown to the user.


This is broken, it should probably just put out the light.(first)

Posted by: Cole at May 12, 2006 12:14 AM

20, 50, what's the difference? You're just going to blow it all on beer anyway, you wacky Aussie.


Posted by: abcdario at May 12, 2006 12:15 AM

I would guess that they found customers were confused by having the $20 option simply gone from their choices.

Soda machines solved this decades ago.

Posted by: tim at May 12, 2006 02:32 AM

But I only have $47.00 in my account!!!

Posted by: Miki at May 12, 2006 04:50 AM

Most likely, this is a case where the machine is running low on bills and the only thing it has in stock are 50s. So in other words, ordinarily you COULD get $20.00 out of it, but then when the interface puts through a request to the backend for $20, the backend says "I've only got 50s, dude."

Yes, it's broken, there should be a better interaction between the UI and the dispenser, but I don't think it's "habitually broken" type of thing where it's like that all the time.

Posted by: Derek at May 12, 2006 07:05 AM

haha this happened to me, but it only had 100's, but i only had like 79.63 in my account

Posted by: .....HUH? at May 12, 2006 08:05 AM

My previous bank used to give the option for "$60 Fast Cash" but when you selected it, it said the ATM was unable to disburse this amount of money. So then I'd just go ahead and manuall enter in "$60" in the "how much do you want to withdraw section." I'd get my $60 that way. Don't know why they offered the Fast Cash option, since it mean exiting and starting from scratch or, worse, walking away thinking the machine was out of money.

Posted by: McWatters at May 12, 2006 08:08 AM

"I would guess that they found customers were confused by having the $20 option simply gone from their choices."

It doesn't have to be gone, just grayed out. With a message saying "Out of $20 bills" or something.

Posted by: Fuzzy at May 12, 2006 08:14 AM

This reminds me of an ATM system years ago which would periodically spit out the following in response to a withdrawal request: "Last transaction not completed. Do you want another transaction?" The first time I saw it, it freaked me out. My first thought was the transaction was "partially completed" -- i.e. they deducted the money from my account but the machine just couldn't give it to me. And what made them think I wanted to try another transaction which they couldn't complete?

A more reassuring message would have been "Unable to process transaction, transaction cancelled". Well, not reassuring necessarily, but at least not ambiguous!

Posted by: Mike Wyman at May 12, 2006 08:31 AM

Sounds like a broken ATM. I don't think this is reasonably avoidable...I think Derek's got it right. So...broken, but not broken.

Posted by: =David at May 12, 2006 08:33 AM

This is quite normal - happens all the time in Ireland. Only adds about 10 seconds on to your time at the ATM, but perhaps we Irish aren't in so much of a rush as everyone else.

If the machine is out of $20 bills and you only have $30 in your account, well it doesn't matter whether the ATM says 'out of $20 bills' on the first screen or the 2nd screen, you're still not gonna get the cash

Posted by: Leprechaun at May 12, 2006 08:51 AM

I worked in interaction design for ATMs for two years. The co. I worked for produces a single product that is independent of the hardware it runs on.

And yes, they are working towards intelligent machines that respond to things like low bill counts with greyed out buttons.

But they're not there yet. It's the hardware companies that use proprietary software that are holding things back.

Posted by: DaveC426913 at May 12, 2006 09:41 AM

In fact, if those screen shots were taken in Australia, it's entirely possible the company I worked for is working with them on their next generation of ATMs. They do lots of business in Australia/NZ.

Posted by: DaveC426913 at May 12, 2006 09:44 AM

The question I have is why do they need two different bills in the first place? I would think that $20 bills are generally more convenient. Perhaps there's another motive for stacking a machine with larger bills, depending on where it's located. A shopping center or casino might benefit from people having more "spending" cash in their pockets.

Posted by: conspiracy_guy at May 12, 2006 10:03 AM

I don't think that's the question, conspiracy guy.

If I want to withdraw say $300, I would rather six 50's, than fifteen 20's

Posted by: Leprechaun at May 12, 2006 11:45 AM

I see below your hand an option for $10. Why not withdraw $10 twice?

Posted by: birdonthebat at May 12, 2006 12:46 PM

Sorry, I see now that's $100, not $10.

Posted by: birdonthebat at May 12, 2006 12:47 PM

Sorry, I'm not buying the "just a little broken" arguments.

If this thing is smart enough to take your request, look up your account and use that to decide whether you may get a withdrawal, and it's smart enough to know that it's out of $20s, then it should be smart enough not to waste the customer's time with unavailable options.

When it's broken ONLY in the way that will generate CUSTOMER inconvenience as opposed to bank inconvenience, then it is BROKEN for purposes of posting here.

Posted by: Pat at May 12, 2006 03:13 PM

maybe the $20 slot is jammed and it tried to give you a $20 and it could not.

Posted by: Joeb at May 12, 2006 04:14 PM


Joeb--- the WHAT???

mebbe it's just me, but my ATM does not dispense bills though different slots depending on denomination. mebbe thats not quite what u meant. i've no idea.

anyway, it would be very benificial to the consumer if the machine was able to display a notice that it is out of a denomination

Posted by: freedomlinuc at May 12, 2006 05:31 PM


Yes, the user's side only has one slot. But you think all the bills are just stacked up together? There are a few different cassettes with bills in them, ready to kick out the bills. It goes through a detector to make sure it's only kicking out one at a time, and then it spits it into the user's slot. Maybe the $20 slot inside the machine is broken.

Posted by: =David at May 12, 2006 06:52 PM

Sorry for the dp. It occurs to me that Pat is spot on. We can send a man to the moon, but...and all that jazz. It could be made fairly simply to tell the customer "Sorry, no $20's, so don't waste your time..."

Not a whole lot of time wasted, but still a slightly negative customer experience. Pat, I'm changing my vote. Broken.

Posted by: =David at May 12, 2006 06:59 PM

I still think the different types of bills contribute to the problem. What if there's only one $20 bill left in the machine? You could withdraw $70, but not $40. The smart way to handle this would be to allow withdrawals in $20 increments only. For amounts over $100, the machine could substitute two $50 bills for five $20 bills.

Of course, this doesn't eliminate the problem of the machine running out of twenties before it runs out of fifties. You could do a statistical analysis to figure out the correct ratio of fifties to twenties, based on actual usage.

Posted by: conspiracy_guy at May 13, 2006 01:19 AM

Makbe the machine is out of 20s. [)|_||-|! 4|_|5513 73c|-| 5|_|cx5.

Posted by: Darkgarlic at May 13, 2006 10:58 PM

I wish it were easy enough to just program the s/w so that it catered to the user's every needs, but the fact is that, what the user REALLY needs - more than convenience, is security - to know that the ATM doesn't screw up.

Bill handling is not simply a client-side issue. For some reason, that's one of the things handled at the host end, which, in ALL matters, requires some unbelievably small hoops to jump through.

(I have to be careful of sounding like I'm saying "that's too hard for the vendors to do, so it's not broken" - making excuses is not the same as something is not broken.)

But I reiterate - what users need MORE than convenience is security in transactions. And the banks don't compromise there - even for their customers.

Posted by: DaveC426913 at May 13, 2006 11:25 PM

It would be nice if the machine would tell you why you couldn't get $20 or used a equivelant lower value bills in despensing. $10+$10=$20; $5+$5+$5+$5=20$

Example of a lazy computer. :) OR lazy software programmer! :O

Posted by: Jesse at May 14, 2006 07:34 PM

Jesse, I don't know what ATM's you use, but I've never used an ATM that gives any bill below a $20.

Posted by: Kay at May 14, 2006 11:23 PM

I worked at a bank and loaded the ATM back in the 90's. ATMs have not changed one bit. I hate them. We had so many complaints when we took the $5s out and only had $20s. Of course, it was in a college town so most ATM users only had $9 in their account. This was before debit cards.

Anyway, I digress, you can only put so many bills in a cassette and on holiday weekends they will run out of money. With debit cards, ATMs are archaic and banks don’t care if they are unuser-friendly. It is cheaper for them if you use your debit card.

Posted by: JAC at May 15, 2006 12:30 PM

Even a soda machine will let you know when it is out of something BEFORE you select it. Maybe you have to press the $20 button 5 times, then it is a multiple of $50? or maybe not.

Posted by: Carlie Chan at May 16, 2006 03:51 PM

Kay-I know of several ATMs by me that can actually cash paychecks and dispense $1's and change too! They aren't very common and I was pretty impressed the first time I used one. But most of the standard ATM's here can dispense $10's, but they also don't show you a screen that tells you it's out of money, it waits until it spits out your receipt. It would be so much nicer, if it did work like a soda machine and you could know if it was out of money before you wasted your time using it.

Posted by: Peebs at May 17, 2006 05:16 PM

Same problem at Liberty University ATMs. They dispense $10s for the most part, but if the one in the main hall doesn't like you, you enter in PIN and everything only to get told, "Sorry, try punching in $50!"

Fifty??? Who do you think I am? The chancellor? I'm one of the bloody students you twat! I've barely got $15 to my name!

Posted by: JPatch at May 17, 2006 08:09 PM

With debit cards, ATMs are archaic and banks don’t care if they are unuser-friendly.

i think "unuser-friendly" is broken

Posted by: nothenry at May 18, 2006 05:18 PM

here in holland the ATMachines (ATM = automated teller machine, so ATM machine is wrong!) of some company's display the type of notes in this macine even before you entered anything.

so this is pretty broke...

Posted by: alexander at May 20, 2006 08:14 PM

With debit cards, ATMs are archaic and banks don’t care if they are unuser-friendly.

i think "unuser-friendly" is broken

Thanks, nothenry.

I have never been broken before.

Posted by: JAC at May 22, 2006 12:24 PM

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