Cover Story: Airport ATM Deal - Taking Off?

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Banks battling for your money at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport.  The airport is one step closer to choosing just one bank to operate its ATMs.

While some call it a good business decision to help the airport make money others question why the city is taking away your choice on where you get your cash.

The airport after all is city-owned, so many people want to know why it's kicking out all the banks except for one.  While it may appear the airport is kicking out the competition, all the banks had a shot at bidding on being the exclusive bank.

For fliers, if you want to use the ATM, it means you'll need to have a card from Bank of America or be ready to pay a fee.

Money makes the world go round.  It was the cash register, 131 years ago Friday that was patented.. to now modern times.  How money goes back and forth has changed over the years.

Now it's the ATM.

Which is why the very notion of altering anything to do with ATMs can create a raucous.

"It works to the benefit of one bank but to the detriment of anyone else that would want an ATM at the facility," says UNC Charlotte banking professor Dr. Tony Plath.  He's talking about the airport aiming to ink a deal with Bank of America making B of A the sole ATM provider at Charlotte Douglas Airport.

"In a public space it limits consumer choice. People aren't at the airport because they want to be there. They're there because they have to be," he said.

Right now the Airport has ATMs from four banks (Bank of America, Wells Fargo, BB & T and First Citizens Bank).  But if the Charlotte City Council gives its okay on November 14th, it'll go to one provider for all eleven ATMs.

"We're always looking to increase our non-airline revenues," says Airport Director Jerry Orr.  Bank of America came up with the most cash for the exclusive rights.  The Airport will see its ATM revenue quadruple.

But for passengers who don't bank with B of A, it'll mean transaction fees to use the ATM.

Since the Charlotte-based bank until most recently was the biggest bank in the country Orr doesn't believe many will be out in the cold.

"Three-quarters of the people coming through the Airport are from somewhere else. You have to think that a lot of them are Bank of America customers," said Orr.

"I hope some of those customers.."

But with the way politicians are attacking banks - and Bank of America in particular - exclusive ATM rights could backfire if too many people wind up paying fees and complaining.

Banks see it as a way to boost their brand.  Airports see an opportunity to boost the bottom line.

Ron Shevlin is a senior analyst for Aite Group, a banking research and advisory firm.

Shevlin says, "You can pretty much bet that any airport where the contract is coming up or does not currently have one - an exclusive contract with a bank - is probably looking at this deal and saying, "Yeah that's something we ought to be doing too."

This deal is worth $1.6 million a year for Charlotte Douglas.  The Airport was getting about a quarter million dollars a year from its ATMs.  It's a deal that can go up to five years.

If the city council signs off on it, look for the ATMs to switch over the first of the year.

Airports in other major cities are also signing exclusive ATM deals with banks, cities like Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Houston to name a few.

40 million people pass through Charlotte Douglas Airport a year.  It's one of the fastest growing airports in the country.

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