If you can't beat them, join them.
That's what at least two southeast Queensland businessmen have done in the fight against ATM fees.
They have bought their own ATMs and set them up in competition with banks, turning the fee-guzzling machines into their own personal cash cows.
A growing number of entrepreneurs are turning ATMs into their own personal cash cows. Photo: Kirk Gilmour
According to Australia Institute, a growing number of entrepreneurs have latched onto the investment opportunity since Reserve Bank reforms in March 2009 transferred the power to set ATM charges from banks to ATM operators.
"It's a growth market because it's so profitable now to own and run ATMs, which wasn't profitable in the past," Australia Institute deputy director Josh Fear said.
"In the past it was really profitable for banks to have their customers using foreign ATMs. Now it's really profitably for anyone who owns an ATM."
Mr Fear said ATM users still paid a similar amount in fees - $750 million per year, according a report yesterday - but a much smaller share ended up with the banks.
The fee is now mostly split between the ATM operator, which is responsible for maintenance, and the business where it is located.
Brisbane businessman Andrew Mooney has built up a portfolio of about 200 ATMs, with 90 per cent operating in Queensland.
His business, STB Technologies, has significantly grown since the 2009 reforms, compared to when he bought his first ATM in 1995.
He now has four employees and is generating a "comfortable" profit.
"We compete directly against banks but at least we're on a level playing field," he said.
However, he said there was a risk associated with choosing a profitable location.
He has been copping a loss on scores of ATMs across southern Brisbane and in Ipswich since last month's floods. Many were either damaged or the businesses where they are located have not reopened.
Complete ATM Services owner Rod Collins said he relocated from Sydney to the Gold Coast two years ago when he recognised that the high number of card users in southeast Queensland were not being sufficiently serviced.
He now has 40 ATMs located in restaurants, convenience stores and other small businesses across the region and also has contracts to provide temporary ATMs at weekend markets, sporting events and festivals such as Big Day Out.
"At the end of the day it's not about how many machines you have [but] how many transactions you're processing through the machines," he said.
He also has moved into selling machines to family-owned businesses that want to operate them from their premises.
Mr Collins said he was now in such a strong market position he could afford to undercut new competitors.
One of the largest ATM deployers in Australia, Adelaide-based My ATM, recently listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.
Managing director Tim Scala said the company had machines at 650 sites nationally and had sold more than 1500 to investors who purchased fleets of five or 10.
He said wealthy property owners who wanted a better return on their money were investing in ATMs. He offered them a return rate of a minimum 20 per cent per annum.
However, while some ATM deployers offer lease agreements and sell individual machines, financial experts warn that the boom in private ATM owners has seen competition tighten so far that the opportunity had become too risky for "mum and dad" investors.
"There's a secondary market that's developed where you can invest in an ATM," Mr Fear said. "But it's disturbing that such a market exists and I'd suggest it's not in the public interest."
Mr Mooney said operating ATMs should be considered a career move rather than an investment opportunity.