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Worried about grungy-looking ATMs? Don't be, experts say

ATM operators say that the use of cash has more than halved during the coronavirus crisis.

Likauset pankkiautomaatin näppäimet
Image: Petri Kivimäki/Yle

The operators of Finland's ATM network say they face special challenges ensuring that keypads remain clean during the coronavirus crisis. However they say they are relying on public health officials who advise that surface contamination is not a major factor in the spread of the disease.

The primary means by which novel coronavirus spreads is by droplet contagion, when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL. However public health experts have noted that the virus may also spread when people touch contaminated surfaces.

In spite of this the THL has said that so far, contaminated surfaces do not appear to have played a major role in spreading the virus. All the same, the THL and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, FIOH, have advised that surfaces should be cleaned thoroughly and frequently.

According to the guidance, high-traffic surfaces such as those used in public areas should be cleaned at least daily and during the current epidemic, they should be disinfected every two to four hours.

Knuckles or gloves?

But what about ATM machines? It's impossible to get cash without touching the keypads.

Risto Lepo, sales and development director with Nokas cms, which manages the Nosto ATM network in Finland, said that ATMs are not a significant source of coronavirus contagion. He said that he trusts international research as well as the THL, which both suggest that surface contamination is not a major factor in the spread of the virus.

"I'm not terribly worried. Shopping baskets, trolleys, door and car handles, elevator buttons and other surfaces like that are disinfected a lot. It's an impossible task to disinfect everything," he declared.

Cash services director Harri Pennanen of Automaatia pankkiautomaatit Ltd, which manages the Otto ATM network, said he held the same view.

"Of course it's clear that it's not possible to clean after every customer, but we try to clean with the resources available," Pennanen told Yle in an email.

Supermarkets and other businesses still serving the public have stepped up cleaning and disinfecting due to the crisis. Even state gambling monopoly Veikkaus has taken gaming machines offline to ensure they do not contribute to spreading the virus.

Senior FIOH researcher Sirpi Laitinen said that she recalled reading an international publication that suggested pressing buttons with the knuckle. "I haven't myself tried to see if I could use an ATM machine with my knuckles. I use gloves at the store and at the ATM," she added.

One million transactions per month

There are 1,200 Otto machines in Finland's ATM network, while Nosto machines account for 530 cash points. Automaatia pankkiautomaatit's Pennanen said that cash in transit (CIT) firms are responsible for cleaning outdoor machines, which they do while performing other service duties. This normally happens on a weekly basis. However the frequency of cleaning has not increased due to the epidemic, he noted.

Indoor cash machines are cleaned by the same people responsible for maintaining the interior of the buildings where they are located. Pennanen did not say if the company had specifically requested disinfection of indoor machines, nor could he say how they are cleaned.

Pennanen noted that the use of cash has declined rapidly because of the pandemic. "There is a broad consensus among authorities, banks and others that the use of cash has more than halved compared to normal times," he pointed out.

Under normal circumstances, people in Finland use ATMs one million times a month. In 2017 Otto cash machines recorded more than 100 million transactions.

Springtime dust a problem

Nosto cash machines are mainly located on properties operated by duopolist retailer S-Group and German supermarket chain Lidl, according to Nokas cms' Risto Lepo.

"We have agreed with them that they will disinfect Nosto machine keypads while they are otherwise cleaning payment terminals. Cash transit companies have also been asked to disinfect the keypads when they refill the machines. But it's impossible to say whether [or not] they do it," he noted.

Outdoor cash machines appear to be the most neglected in the ATM network. It's up to property owners to disinfect outdoor Nosto machines.

"Regardless of what's in the agreements, sometimes you can find really filthy machines. Especially in the spring, when there is a lot of dust. If someone cleans them weekly, it's still not enough then," Lepo commented.

Disappearing hand disinfectant

Both Lepo and Pennanen said that they have been thinking of ways to resolve the hand hygiene issue. They noted that they have placed hand sanitiser dispensers near some ATMs. However the problem is that they are promptly stolen, especially if they are placed near outdoor machines.

They said that they are relying on ATM users to be mindful of their own health as well as that of other customers.

"We hope that each customer takes care of their own hand hygiene," Lepo concluded.

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