ATMs did not displace bank tellers: a cautionary tale

Cautionary in the sense that people often think statically, instead of understanding the dynamics of human interaction:

In a June 14, 2011, interview, President Obama used ATMs a an example of technology displacing labor. He said (I’ve added punctuation to the raw transcript):

There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.

However, James Bessen collected the actual data on ATMs and bank tellers from an array of scattered sources. Overall, the story is that as the ATM machines arrived, the number of bank tellers held steady and even rose slightly.

He goes on to explain the fairly obvious reason why more ATMs did not equal fewer tellers: the tellers’ jobs changed, which increased their value to their employers, which in turn led to more tellers being hired.

Stephen By Stephen

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Professor and quant guy. Libertarian turned populist Republican. Trying to learn Japanese and play Spanish Baroque music on the ukulele.

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