Wells Fargo is the undisputed leader in Antarctic banking thanks to a pair of ATMs at McMurdo station. Despite the monopoly, the bank acts as a benevolent despot by allowing non-customers to draw cash without a surcharge. But who replenishes the stock of $20s? What happens when the ATMs break? Wells Fargo VP David Parker explained it all in a recent interview.
It turns out McMurdo doesn’t get new money, which, for us, would create the overwhelming urge to doodle on bills.
[F]irst of all, the cash on the ice is recycled. So McMurdo Station (which is the scientists’ station there on Antarctica)… any sort of venue, the cash is all recycled, and so there’s no cash vendor that has to go down all the time to a regular ATM to replenish the cash volume.
We do send a vendor down about once every two years to do some preventative hardware maintenance on both of the ATMs, to make sure they’re operational, change out the belts and that kind of stuff, provide new cartridges…anything else hardware-wise that we would need to make sure that it runs. But as you can imagine getting somebody down there is quite a feat.
But what happens when things break anyway?
Well, the one thing that we’ve done, obviously, is we’ve trained the folks that are there on the ice to take care of the ATM, so they are basically self-servicing the ATM in the meantime, and then, like I said, just doing a really heavy, heavy preventative maintenance once every other year, and then having the other ATM that they can sort of utilize if there’s a problem with the one running at the time, they can switch it over or they can use it to change out parts and that kind of stuff, so it gives them some spare parts if it’s needed.
Obviously. Would Wells Fargo ever consider making domestic ATMs free to non-customers?
Raytheon who owns the stuff going on down there at McMurdo Station didn’t want to charge their employees for that, and so we took that into consideration when we do our analysis as far as financials, so they’re actually making up that difference for them.
The full interview is a worth a read if for no other reason than it’s about a bank and won’t make you mad.