Some credit unions are using new ATM regulations — including rules to make machines more accessible for blind members — as motivation to update systems for better service. But others are worried about the expense of complying and possible lawsuits if they don’t.
The ATM standards set by the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act requires credit unions have ATMs with proper speech output, privacy settings, more accessible display screens, and Braille instructions. Those deadline for having a plan for compliance was March 15, and many banks and credit unions like Numerica Credit Union ($1.2B, Spokane, WA) are still making transitions.
Numerica has updated seven of its 17 ATMs so far, says Kelli Hawkins, communications manager at Numerica. The credit union’s ATMS were equipped with Braille, but now they’ll have the required speech output with plug-in headsets that let customers listen to instructions during transactions.
“It will tell you which button to push, and the location of button, if you are requesting a cash withdrawal,” says Hawkins. “Because they are listening to the commands, it does not show on the screen.”
Roughly 21.5 adults in the U.S. have visual impairments, including those who have trouble seeing even with contacts or glasses or who are legally blind, according to a 2010 National Health Interview Survey. ATMs must also have easier-to-read displays which will benefit the hearing impaired, but Hawkins says the upgrades will benefit all members, not just those with disabilities.
The new ATMs will not require envelopes for cash deposits. They’ll have check imaging, boast a better monitor, and will offer easier-to-understand receipts. Check imaging benefits members with more rapid check processing and reduces cost for the credit union.
“This will help us provide better member service,” says Hawkins.
But some credit unions are struggling with the ADA regulations. Cape Regional Credit Union ($13.6M, Cape Girardeau, MO) — a smaller credit union in the Midwest — is worried about the cost of complying with the ADA requirements.
“You’re scratching your head trying to figure out how to reach our bottom line every day,” says Jim Cauble, president and CEO of Cape Regional. “We’re always trying to figure out a way to cut expenses.”
The ADA regulations are a good way to help the disabled community, he says, but Cape Regional can’t afford to update its ATMs right now. Employees have already had their raises have been frozen several years, with their first raise since the recession being last year. The required ATM conversions will burden the credit union with a $56,025 cost.
“It doesn’t make sense to spend that kind of money when in 15 years no one has ever said they can’t use our ATMs [because of a disability],” Cauble says.
The regulation does state that credit unions that can prove “undue burden” do not have to comply. Undue burden is defined as significant expense or difficulty, on a case-by-case basis, including the overall financial resources of the institution and safety concerns.
“The problem with exceptions is that they open up new areas of dispute: Who gets the exception?” says Gerry Neff, acting vice president of technical services at Numerica. “What if the only ATM in an area serving visually impaired person is eligible for an exception? Why do some owners pay for compliance while others do not?”
“The disadvantage of these types of regulations is that they’re based on individual needs rather than financial considerations for the membership as a whole,” he says
Numerica leases its ATM system but still has to pay a substantial amount to update and replace the systems, plus work with vendors to change over its database. Neff says the credit union feels the investment will be worthwhile.