By Willy Staley  Tue Sep 25, 2012

Free ATMs: Maybe Not Artisanal, But You’ll Only Find ‘em in Brooklyn

Anna Michelson/flickr source

 

Should you find yourself at Barclays Center arena in Downtown Brooklyn, having placed a bet on the Brooklyn Nets, you’ll likely need to find an ATM at some point during the course of the night. Luckily for you, they’ll be surcharge free. A company called Free ATM Inc., is the exclusive provider of teller machines at the arena, which opens on the 28th of September.

An ATM in the tonier sections of Brooklyn and Manhattan might run you $2 to $3 in fees, and that doesn’t include the fees your bank may or may not charge for not using their network. ATMs owned by Free ATM run advertisements instead of charging a fee. Free ATM sells media space that was perhaps unimaginable just a decade ago, but which, in the age of Taxi TVs and interactive billboards, seems rather obvious.

Clinton Townsend, the founder of the company, explained his philosophy to MyBankTracker. “Consumers are paying the piper because they have no other choice,” he said. In reality, explained Townsend, “the cost of operating an ATM is fairly minimal on a monthly basis.” He and his company have found a way to support, in a profitable way, the operating costs of an ATM network without charging you a couple bucks every time.

It almost makes you wonder if all these other guys were just, you know, ripping you off?

After the Barclays Center launch, Townsend and company will announce several other Brooklyn locations, he told us. Currently the only other Free ATM is at the Knitting Factory, a venue in Williamsburg. Townsend characterized that ATM as a beta version, or prototype of what his company will be launching soon.

Townsend is also seeking input from New Yorkers as to where they would like to see his ATMs, partially through a partnership with Yelp! the user reviews site, which is also running ads on the ATMs. The company is focusing on Brooklyn and Manhattan for now.

Despite the free ATM’s obvious appeal to underbanked communities, where residents are more likely to have to go to their deli or check-cashing spot to get cash, Townsend says that isn’t his goal. “Our platform isn’t just for quote-unquote underserved communities,” said Townsend. He cited Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s main commercial drag as a likely location for one of his ATMs. There are 38 ATMs on that stretch by his count, and not one from Bank of America, Citibank or Wells Fargo. And the area is constantly packed with young people looking to waste their money.

Townsend firmly believes that cash is still king, despite all the hubbub surrounding alternative payment methods. And ATM fees are going to push people away from cash if the industry doesn’t adapt.

“It’s a practice that has gone on for a long time,” he said of ATM fees, adding that “we need a long-term and lasting business model that will help.”

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