Of all the things Canadians will boast about, our banking system isn’t one of them despite being one of the strongest and most advanced in the world. Early co-operation between the financial institutions allowed Canada to become world leaders in the use of debit cards and internet banking, and we have the highest number of ATMs on the planet, per capita.
That means we have no excuse for not doing what people in other countries have been doing for years: making charitable donations at bank machines. HSBC in the UK started accepting voluntary donations in 2003 after their Mexican affiliate had success with this idea. Wells Fargo in Southern California has accepted contributions to the Red Cross, and banks in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates allow payments to the Red Crescent via ATMs.
This type of system works because it’s a call to action with minimal effort at a minor cost. We often grumble about the multiple service charges we pay at ATMs, but most of us would have no problem adding a loonie to our transaction if it was directed to a charity. Shoppers Drug Mart does this at the register for their Tree Of Life campaign, asking customers (in front of a line of other patrons) if they’d like to add a buck to their bill for charity. For most, to say no would be embarrassing and callous as we then hand-over our Optimum Card to be scanned for deals.
The process at the ATM would be simple. Before completing the transaction, the customer would be asked if they’d like do donate $1 to charity, with the option to enter another amount. The next screen would allow them to choose from a list of organizations preselected by the bank. The donation would appear on one’s monthly statement, and therefore be the record of deductibles come tax time. Alternatively, the bank could issue a charitable receipt at the end of each year.
Charitable options could also differ by region, allowing customers to donate to a regional charity like the Toronto Humane Society or AIDS Committe of Toronto. Since many causes campaign annually during a certain month, this could also be reflected at the ATM.
The majority of Canadians log about 40-50 ATM transactions per year. Multiply that fifty bucks by the millions of us who use an ATM each day and you can see how significant a program like this would be. We pay more than this in service charges, in turn helping the banks set annual record profits, but our willingness to pay an Interac fee or for a Starbucks coffee should be reason enough to encourage ATM donations.
The technology is already in place, and adding this option would mean a relatively simple software upgrade rolled-out to Canada’s 18,000 bank machines. It would be nice to see at least one bank attempt this as even a pilot project, and considering our status as leaders in the electronic banking industry, it’s shameful that it wasn’t implemented years ago.