Wells Fargo & Co. is turning to its automated teller machines to provide more details — faster — to online banking customers.
The San Francisco banking company announced Tuesday that customers can opt to receive receipts for ATM transactions electronically, either by e-mail or within their online banking message center. Wells Fargo said that by having its ATMs speak electronically to its website, customers get more information than they otherwise would online.
The company also said the tighter integration of its ATMs and online systems could increase the appeal of other advanced tools, such as its personal financial management software.
Observers said the link was overdue and that other financial companies may follow suit, though some questioned the benefit of sending transaction details to a website that already tracks deposits and withdrawals.
Incorporating ATM receipts can turn the online banking site into a "financial information suite that you wouldn't get" from just a paper or e-mailed receipt, Jonathan Velline, Wells' head of ATM banking and store strategy, said in an interview Tuesday.
Though Wells' website already tracks customers' transactions, Velline said ATM receipts can provide more details to customers, faster, and could help them better manage their finances through its My Spending Report PFM tool.
While online banking updates in batches, "the other benefit of the receipt is it's more real-time," Velline said. Without the receipt, an ATM transaction appears online "when you make it, but it shows it's pending, and there's not much detail behind it" until the batch is handled that evening.
By contrast, the paperless receipt is generated by the ATM and is sent to the user's inbox immediately, Velline said. It includes such details as the ATM's address and any other transaction-specific information that may not be readily apparent online, he said.
Wells already offered the choice of rejecting the paper receipt altogether, but many customers want the detail an ATM receipt provides. However, they do not feel compelled to hold on to the paper itself, leading many to simply throw the receipt away shortly after it is printed.
"They'd like to select the no-receipt option, but at the end of the day they need the info," Velline said.
The paperless-receipt option, which Wells has tested for a year and rolled out nationwide June 9, should appeal to those users.
Nicole Sturgill, the research director for delivery channels at TowerGroup, said paperless receipts are an overdue feature that few banks offer.
"The garbage cans around ATMs are full of receipts," she said, so it is clear that people do not want to keep a paper record. "They get it and they immediately throw it away."
Wells is unlikely to be the only company moving in this direction, Sturgill said. "This will spur others to consider" electronic receipts.
The e-mail option will likely be more popular than sending receipts to online banking sites, because people with smart phones will be able to get an immediate record through e-mail accounts they access through their phones, she said.
However, Sturgill was skeptical about the idea of linking ATM receipts to personal financial management software, and said the receipts provide little useful detail that users cannot get online. "It gives you more detail because it tells you which ATM" the transaction came from, she said. "That's pretty much all it does."
However, even if the paperless-receipt system is not a perfect fit for PFM users, there is still marketing value to tying the two together, Sturgill said. "You kind of have to put the marketing around it" to make the pitch clear to users.
Wells Fargo uses ATMs from NCR Corp., Wincor Nixdorf AG and Diebold Inc. All those machines run Wells' own software, so the paperless-receipt system will work at all of its ATMs.
Bob Tramontano, NCR's vice president of marketing, said his company has offered a paperless-receipt option since 2007, but besides Wells, none of its U.S. customers offer paperless receipts today. A few are testing it, but he would not name them.
However, Tramontano said, "Wells announcing this may accelerate a few things" at the banks that are considering the technology. NCR supports sending receipts across multiple channels, including online banking and text message.
Paperless receipts could provide a security benefit, Tramontano said. A customer who gets receipts electronically would be notified if someone else withdrew money from an ATM, for example, or if someone tried to hide their tracks by switching off electronic receipts and reinstating paper.
A Diebold spokeswoman said that the ATM maker also offers electronic receipt delivery capabilities but that no customers are using it. Wincor Nixdorf did not return calls Tuesday.
The paperless-receipt system works only for accounts that have already been enrolled in online banking. It sends the receipt to the online banking account or e-mail address Wells already has on file for that customer.
Velline said Wells limits this feature to existing online banking users because it is impractical to allow users to enroll at the ATM — typing an e-mail address on an ATM's keypad would be tedious.
(Wells Fargo does, however, allow users to sign up for mobile banking at ATMs by typing their phone numbers on the keypads.)
So far, 75% of those opting for electronic notification have chosen e-mail receipt and 25% have chosen to view them through their online banking accounts. Velline said this system fits into a broader strategy of making the cross-channel banking experience more seamless, and that past cross-channel projects have led to higher customer loyalty.
The feature is not yet available to customers of Wachovia Corp., which Wells Fargo acquired in 2008.
As Wells moves ahead with its Wachovia integration efforts, it is replacing the Wachovia ATMs with ones that run Wells Fargo software. This replacement will be complete this year, and Wells customers will have access to the paperless-receipt feature at ATMs that have been switched over, but Wachovia customers will not have access to it until their accounts are converted to Wells Fargo's systems next year.