The ATM Experience: Back to the Basics of Design

On a hot sultry Delhi afternoon when I decided to walk down to the ATM, about half a km from work, I had no idea that an interesting banking experience awaited me. When I entered the booth, I was shocked to see the amount of paper trashed next to the ATM machine. A broom placed right next to it clearly indicated that even the cleaners found it hard to trash large amounts of paper every day. Immediately all the arguments for going paperless in the banking world came running to mind. The fact that passbooks still exist and that paper records of financial transactions often ensure greater trust, reminded me though that maybe it was just a problem of more effective trash management.

The assumption around a consistent need for paper based records was shattered when a man, who I perceived to be a daily wage laborer, approached me to help him withdraw 10,000 rupees from the ATM, “Madam, hamare liye bhi nikal deinge kya?” Even though he was withdrawing an amount which was seemingly large, the man did not care for printing the receipt.While I was initially confused around how to insert his card in the machine owing to different orientation of card reader formats, the man amazed me by showing how to do it. When I started navigating through the interface for him, it was clear he also knew that the money had to be withdrawn from his savings account, which I assumed would be a potential knowledge gap. At the moment of entering the PIN, I was astounded to know that he was ready to trust a ‘stranger’. Since I had no interest in knowing about his confidential information, I encouraged him to enter it on his own. The fact that he could enter his pin using a keypad did not come as a surprise considering the all-pervasive mobile usage. As he could easily remember his pin number, it was evident that he was a frequent user. I was perplexed about why the man asked me to help when he clearly had the information around all the steps involved in the process. At the end of it all, I asked him again. He responded saying “Mujhse nahi ho pata,” leaving me even more baffled.

Only When I excitedly shared the experience with a colleague on the way back, I realized that the barrier lied in the interface. The man clearly had information around the steps involved and could easily key in his pin, though using the touch screen was potentially challenging. It was clear that it was not an issue of digital literacy as he could easily provide me answers to steps involved in the process without requiring any detailed explanation from me.

From all the talk around the lack of financial and digital literacy and products/services aligned with how people think about and handle money, as well as inappropriate delivery channels, as an obstacle to financial inclusion, I wonder whether one of the fundamental barriers is lack of user-centered interface design. In a country like India, how can we assume that the services that we design for the elite will be isolated from daily wage laborers working in urban areas? While the challenge of digital and financial literacy can be easily overcome by frequent usage of a product or a service, interface related barriers may be harder to overcome. We may need to rethink the basics of design when it comes to designing financial products to ensure easy accessibility by all.

About Ekta Ohri

Ekta Ohri has a background in Architecture, Visual and Critical Studies, and Anthropology and is interested in exploring links between design, culture, and lived experience.
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