The History of the ATM

Another in the series of four Citibank Citi 200 years commercials is now being broadcast on BBC World News. The Blizzard of Change is a documentary style commercial that was shot in New York and Singapore. It tells the story of the introduction of the ATM and brings us up to date with 360 Stations – the ATM’s natural successor that will change how we interact with our banks once again. The film features some great 1970s commercials and some clever but very subtle visual effects – can you spot them? (I’ll explain below).

The story of the ATM, featuring original Citi commercials

In the 1970s many banks were experimenting with cash machines, but people were not yet ready for them. This was before personal computers and mobile phones – people were just not comfortable using computers and electronic machines; they preferred interaction with humans, even if it meant getting to the bank by 3pm and waiting in line.  And so in its early days, the only people using ATMs were people who wanted to hide the source of their cash – drug dealers, prostitutes and pimps.

The Blizzard of Change

Citi was one of the first banks to see the potential of the ATM and rolled them out across New York, much to the derision of its rivals. But it took a massive snowstorm, which shut schools, roads, businesses and banks, for people, unable to get to their banks, to start using the ATMs.  After that, everything changed – banks and banking, shopping, impulse purchases, our whole social fabric and relationship with money.  Nowaddays you can ask your taxi to wait while you pop to the cash machine.  Back then, you’d just have to walk home!  But that’s not all that changed – it was our first introduction to working with computers. Many commentators believe that were it not for the ATM, today we may not have personal computers, mobile phones, or the dreaded phrase “unexpected item in the bagging area!

Directing the Smart Banking Commercial with VFX ATM effect

The advert goes on to look at the next generation of bank branches and ATMs, designed by Tim Kobe, the man behind the Apple Store. It looks at the 360 Station, the successor to the ATM.

Despite its appearance, when I shot this piece in Singapore in 2012, the 360 was just a prototype in a lab. We shot the sequences in the lab, duplicated them on the street and then composited the sequences. We added some street reflections onto the machine’s exterior and sunlight effects and in the end you can’t tell that the sequence is manufactured.