Rejoice Penguins, Wells Fargo Has An ATM In Antarctica

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.

And repairs?

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.

The World’s Most Southerly ATM: An Interview With Wells Fargo’s David Parker [Needcoffee via The Morning News]


Edit Your Comment

  1. twophrasebark says:

    Seems like it would be a better investment to just take cash out of the loop and make McMurdo all debit/credit.

    If some debit card readers break, they can ship more. No need to send some dude to fix an ATM with belts and moving parts, et cetera.

    • MrEvil says:

      But then how are the scientists down there going to gamble on Penguin races and poker games?

      • bigTrue says:

        poker is a big reason, actually. A friend of mine spends half the year working as a hi-lo driver unloading and loading cargo planes down there. He says a lot of free time is gambling, after you get over the first timers awe at going on a hike to see the South Pole and such.

  2. ChunkyBarf says:

    I found this little factoid out from watching ‘Pawn Stars’ of all things. A gentleman was trying to sell the first ATM receipt printed there in Antarctica (from about 15 years ago if I remember correctly). Small world I guess.

    • sonneillon says:

      That show is kind of depressing. It is just a half hour of ripping people off.

      At least with American pickers they offer a reasonable amount for what they go after.

      • Salty Johnson says:

        What are you talking about? American Pickers always say they want to double their money. The guys on Pawn Stars try to do that, but often don’t get deals that good. They’ll usually make 50% profit. Plus, the guys running the pawn shop don’t exactly have time to run around and find buyers so just about everything they sell is sold in the shop and must wait for a buyer… and since they’re a pawn shop, they are required by law to keep things in the back room for 30 (or maybe 60… don’t remember) days in case an item turns up stolen, during which time they cannot sell those items.

        The American Pickers get much more bang for their bucks.

        • sonneillon says:

          The guys on Pawn stars try to do more than double their money. I see them make deals that would do significantly more, and they make a sh*t load. The owners are inherently dishonest about how they negotiate, which makes them effective negotiators that’s true, but they ask the people who often don’t know the value of their items to name a price and then they low ball them. Which like I said is effective but “I hate people who know the value of their items” being the catch phrase for that whole show.

          • bigTrue says:

            My girlfriend tried to say something similar, and I see it, but these guys run a pawn shop in vegas. Respectable people with time to sell something don’t go to a pawn shop. People who have a bit of time at least go to craigslist and then maybe ebay. If you want to be really respectable selling off your aunt’s prized war chest or grandma’s coin collection you go to a dealer of such things.

            Pawn shops are horrible places built on a sudden need for money by someone (drugs, gambling, debts to nefarious types, stolen items) and run by guys who skirt the gray area of the law by making a profit off those who need money quick for such things. Are they a bit crooked? Sure, but nobody has to choose them as the place to unload anything with real value. People go to a pawn shop because they need cash now, not in a few weeks, and most of the people aren’t pawning the item, they sell, because they aren’t coming back to get it again.

            • sonneillon says:

              I’m not saying I don’t understand the purpose of a pawnshop, only that it is a depressing show to watch and that the previous show where guys go around in their van go through people’s junk and tell them if they have anything is worth while is a less depressing show and they are up front about what they do. “We are going to give you half of what we think we can sell it for, but if we didn’t come by you wouldn’t get anything for the items.”

              • bigTrue says:

                I don’t see taking advantage of the stupid as depressing. It means the smart people win.

                Anyone in such dire straights they have to use a pawn shop is stupid and the guy who owns a pawn shop is pretty smart and positioned to reap the reward from that stupidity.

              • spinceoli says:

                Why is it depressing? In more than half of the scenarios on the shows, the pawn shop guys actually bring in an expert, free of charge, to assess the value of the item. Then, fully armed with that knowledge, the sellers themselves decide to enter into negotiations fully knowing the price that they *could* get on their own, but would require significant time investment and connections.

                Nobody forces them to bargain at $5k for a $10k piece. If the pawn shop’s offer is too low then they can walk away.

            • Ixnayer says:

              Actually your wrong, according to Pawn Stars about 70% of items are pawned and picked up. They are nothing more than a line of credit that requires no credit check.

          • pecan 3.14159265 says:

            I don’t think that’s always the case – almost every show, one of the experts comes in to assess the item being sold. It’s one thing if the experts are lying, but there’s no indication of that. People want fast money and that’s why they go to a pawn shop. But even if they didn’t NEED the money right away, one of the issues that is definitely brought up in Pawn Stars (and is accurate) is that auction houses take anywhere from 10% to 25% of your total sale – even if an item is valued at $10,000, there’s no guarantee you’ll get that. If you get $10,000, you’re still giving a certain percentage of that to the auction house.

  3. Thyme for an edit button says:

    I don’t understand the need for an ATM. Are there stores in Antarctica where you can go spend your cash?

    • Hoot says:

      “The buildings consist of a whole range of scientific laboratories, administrative buildings, workshops, garages, medical buildings, dormitory and sleeping facilities, kitchens, canteens and recreational facilities.”

      That’s all I could get from just a quick look. I would assume fixing your truck (sled?) and joining the gym might take money? Also, you probably have to buy food and pay your doctor. Not everyone down there is on an expedition where everything (might be) provided and paid for ahead of time. There are lots of operational staff.

    • BrooklynKnight says:

      Kinda sorta yes. McMurdo is almost like a small town. It’s a community of scientists and what not. They have a bowling alley, movie theater and a few stores too.

    • aja175 says:

      The dealers still only take cash.

  4. dreamfish says:

    Obviously to be a part of the ‘in crowd’ when in Antartica, you describe yourself as being ‘on the ice’.

  5. Daggertrout says:

    What exactly do they mean by “all the cash is recycled”?

    Does everyone just deposit it back into those ATMs?

    • HoJu says:

      It’s more likely that they have someone down there that runs the finances and the businesses down there (however limited) just deposit their cash at the “bank” and the bank sticks it in the ATMs.
      Or maybe I’m wrong. What the hell do I know. I didn’t RTFA.

    • freelunch says:

      in small communities like at McMurdo station, individuals often carry several job titles… one or more people have surely been trained how to do very basic troubleshooting and repair on the ATM, and are authorized to maintain ink cartridges, and move cash from the ‘deposits’ processing queue to the cash dispensing queue… I imagine someone operates as a limited bank teller for providing coins, etc. to business functions…

      even submarines have ‘cash goods’ on board, if someone wants to buy a pile of Snickers, or some gum…

    • GrimJack says:

      It makes sense to me – it’s not like someone is going to take money out of the ATM and spend it “in the next town”. While it may make more sense to have it be a purely credit/debit environment of electronic transactions, there are probably at least a couple of good reasons to have cash: first, to avoid minimum merchant fees on purchases of 50 cent items like candy, and second to provide a modicum of normalcy to an otherwise surreal environment…

  6. SilverBlade2k says:

    So now the banks wants to put Antarctica into debt…

  7. Gregg Araki Rocks My World says:

    While I think this is neat, I just kind of wish that there was a huge landmass still not touched by banks or businesses. Researching is fine, because they are there for knowledge.

    • Big Mama Pain says:

      Don’t worry, I don’t think Antarctica is going to be a business boon anytime soon; but the people there doing the research stay for months or years at a time. Do you expect them to just be holed up in a research lab the whole time?

      • Gregg Araki Rocks My World says:

        I’d imagine they would get bored and end up growing marijuana and having lots of sex. A man can dream.

  8. Buckus says:

    What the heck do you buy in the Antarctic?

    • bhr says:

      Thermal underwear. Lots of thermal underwear.

    • Dustbunny says:

      The penguins have a thriving trade there selling herring sushi.

    • caj111 says:

      Well, I know they do sell t-shirts and sweatshirts in the McMurdo base gift shop, so that’s something.

      I know I’ve always wanted to get a shirt that said “My parents went to Antarctica and I all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” Definitely on my want list.

  9. yankinwaoz says:

    Now all they need is an Antarctic version of the Alameda-Weehawken Buritto Tunnel and they will be set!

  10. soj4life says:

    why do they need cash anyway? if everything is owned by the company, any services should be covered by the company.

  11. scoobydoo says:

    Imagine the hassles of getting your credit card unblocked after a fraud alert from an ATM in Antarctica…

  12. BoredOOMM says:

    Probably easier to ship the ATM back to the states intact than ship a tech down to McMurdo. This is one of the places in the world I would like to sometime visit before I die- maybe I can get a job as an ATM tech….

  13. common_sense84 says:

    Free ATMs is not atypical. The ATM in one of the dorms at purdue had no fee.

  14. kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

    “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”

    I’ll volunteer to “self service” an ATM.

  15. Dover says:

    I didn’t see the part about being fee-free in the article, in fact, it seems like there is a Well-Fargo surcharge: “you would pay the surcharge and then you could access that cash.” Perhaps the article was edited since you posted it?