The ATM industry is expanding at a rapid rate across the world. As of 2020, the market hit $20.18 billion and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.9% from 2021 to 2028.
For savvy entrepreneurs interested in pursuing this sizable market opportunity, understanding the key steps involved in building a successful ATM business is critical. What does it take to get started? What are the most important factors in running a profitable ATM operation?
This guide will walk you through how to start an ATM business. Topics include opening a business bank account, registering an EIN, marketing your brand, sourcing ATMs, and more. Here’s everything you need to know to start your own ATM business.
1. Conduct ATM Market Research
Market research is essential to starting a ATM machine business. It offers insight into your target market, local market saturation, trends in products and services, and more. There are two types of market research, primary and secondary, both are important for beginning a brand.
Some details you’ll learn through market research include:
- This upward trajectory is expected to continue.
- One forecast projects the global ATM market will reach $25 billion by 2026, up from $18 billion in 2021.
- Driving this growth is rising demand in developing regions like Asia Pacific and Latin America as personal incomes increase and more people want to withdraw cash.
- In the US specifically, market saturation remains low compared to other countries.
- There are only around 9 ATMs per 10,000 adults in the US, versus over 12 per 10,000 adults in Canada. This gap indicates there is room for more ATM expansion domestically.
- Profitability prospects for ATM operators are also favorable.
- Transaction fees from banks and surcharges collected from customers can produce strong cash flows.
- Well-located machines in high-traffic areas like gas stations, convenience stores, and entertainment venues can generate over $1,000 per month in gross revenue.
- After costs, operators can realistically target $200-500 in net monthly profits per ATM. For an operator with 20 well-situated machines, this translates to $4,000-$10,000 in monthly recurring cash flow.
- The upfront investment to acquire and install an ATM is around $2,500-$3,500 on average. With strong cash-on-cash returns, payback periods of 6-12 months are achievable.
Overall, market conditions point to a sizable and lucrative opportunity in the ATM industry right now. With steady growth on the horizon and attractive profit potentials from individual machines, the market offers a stable source of cash flow for operators who target strategic, high-traffic locations and provide reliable customer service.
2. Analyze the Competition
Understanding the competitive landscape is key for any new business, and ATM operators are no exception. Competitive analysis tells you how to market your business, where customers are more likely to use ATMs, and what your target market is looking for in an ATM provider.
There are a few angles aspiring operators should analyze to size up competing ATM businesses:
- First, look at the number of ATMs already installed in your target geographic area. Tools like VISA’s Global ATM Finder allow you to search for ATMs by city and zip code.
- High concentrations of existing machines in an area make it more challenging to find vacant high-traffic sites in retail stores and other locations.
- National chains like Cardtronics and large independent players often have ATM fleets numbering in the hundreds or thousands.
- Analyze the monthly transaction volumes of competitors’ machines at locations you are considering. Higher volumes signal you may struggle to attract customers.
- Evaluating fees is also important. Check competitor surcharge amounts and if they adjust pricing during peak hours. You may find opportunities to undercut higher fees.
- Search online reviews of major operators. Poor feedback for lack of service and maintenance may present a competitive opening if you deliver better customer service.
Doing this competitive homework will help identify potential business gaps you can fill and sites where inserting a machine could be profitable. Performing ongoing competitive research as you scale your operation is key to staying strategic.
3. Costs to Start an ATM Business
When launching an ATM operation, the upfront costs consist of acquiring the machines, preparing sites, and handling initial licensing and compliance needs. There are also ongoing business expenses to consider.
- ATM Purchase – The biggest start-up cost is purchasing the ATM units themselves. New machines typically run $2,000 – $3,500 per unit depending on features. Opting for used/refurbished ATMs can reduce this upfront equipment investment to around $1,500 – $2,500 per machine.
- Site Preparation – When placing ATMs in retail locations, any construction or electrical work required to prepare the site will add startup costs. Budget around $500 – $1,000 per location for minor renovations or wiring work needed.
- Installation – Professional installation of the ATMs by a technician averages $300 – $600 per machine depending on location specifics.
- Cash Load – Each ATM will need an initial cash load in the cash cassette to service customer withdrawals. This can be $3,000 or more per unit depending on machine capacity and anticipated transaction volumes.
- Licensing – Certain states require specific ATM operation licenses that cost around $200 per year. Research regulations in your target markets.
- Insurance – General liability insurance for an ATM business runs $600 – $1,000 per year typically. Worker’s compensation is also required if hiring employees.
- With these factors, total startup costs for a small 1-2 machine operation may range from $10,000 – $20,000. For larger operators placing 5-10+ units, expect initial investments between $30,000 – $60,000.
- Transaction Fees – Processing networks charge fees per withdrawal, usually $0.25 – $0.50 per transaction. With higher transaction volumes, these fees add up.
- Cash Management – ATMs need routine cash reloads, which cost around $150 per service visit. Budget around $5,000 – $10,000 annually for cash management across a fleet.
- Maintenance – Annual maintenance contracts for servicing, cleaning, and inspecting machines run $200 – $300 per ATM
- Wireless Connectivity – For ATMs with cellular data connections, wireless modem plans are around $30 per month per unit.
- Location Rent – Rental fees to the host business for placing an ATM on their site average $100 – $300 monthly per location.
By planning for both the initial investment needed to start ATM operations as well as ongoing costs, new entrants can properly size their opportunity and budget. Partnering with an established operator via a profit-sharing or revenue-share arrangement can also help reduce startup capital needs.
4. Form a Legal Business Entity
When starting an ATM business, choosing the right legal structure is key to limiting liability and supporting growth over time. Here is a breakdown of options entrepreneurs have and considerations for each:
A sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common entity for small businesses with one owner. There is no formal registration needed beyond standard business licenses. However, the owner has unlimited personal liability for debts and legal claims, which is risky in the ATM industry where security and cash handling exposures exist.
Forming a general partnership splits ownership between two or more people. This improves capital resources and allows dividing labor, but still imposes unlimited liability on all partners. Partnerships also dissolve if a partner exits, disrupting operations.
Establishing a corporation creates a separate legal entity from the owner and shareholders. This shields personal assets and eases taking on investment. However statutory regulations impose heavy recordkeeping and formalities. Double taxation of profits can also be financially inefficient for smaller ATM operators.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
Forming a limited liability company (LLC) combines the flexibility of a partnership with the liability protections of a corporation. LLCs limit legal and financial risks to the business itself. They can be owned by one or multiple partners and allow passing profits directly to personal returns. LLCs also have fewer reporting rules than corporations.
5. Register Your Business For Taxes
One key tax-related task when starting an ATM operation is obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This unique identifier number is essentially the business’s equivalent of a social security number.
All business entities except sole proprietorships need an EIN for federal tax purposes. Having one simplifies filing business returns, opens access to benefits like health insurance deductions, and legitimizes the operation.
Applying for an EIN is free and can be done entirely online via the IRS website. Simply navigate to the EIN Assistant page and respond to a series of basic questions about the business structure and activities.
In the end, an EIN will be provided immediately that can be used to open business bank accounts, apply for licenses, and file taxes. The whole process only takes about 15 minutes.
In addition to the federal EIN, proper state-level tax compliance steps are needed. Most states require registering for sales tax collection and reporting if selling taxable goods.
Since ATM surcharge fees are considered taxable in most states, obtaining a sales tax permit is recommended. This can be acquired by submitting a business license application with the state revenue or taxation department (deadlines and costs vary by state).
6. Setup Your Accounting
Robust accounting practices are essential for any successful ATM operation. With frequent cash transactions and inventory management needs, having disciplined financial tracking and controls in place is a must.
Using dedicated QuickBooks accounting software provides an easy way to log all revenue and expenses, generate financial statements, and automate tax filings. QuickBooks seamlessly syncs transaction data by connecting to the business bank accounts and credit cards. This eliminates manual data entry and ensures records are comprehensive and accurate.
Hire an Accountant
Partnering with an accountant or bookkeeper is also advisable. They can handle tasks like monthly reconciliations, produce financial reports, and ensure compliance with all IRS rules and tax obligations specific to the ATM industry. Expect to invest around $200 – $500 per month for basic bookkeeping assistance.
Open a Business Bank Account
Keeping personal and business finances strictly separate is also key. All revenue generated from ATM transactions, surcharges, and cash loading fees should flow into dedicated business accounts. Having distinct accounts avoids co-mingling funds and simplifies reporting.
Apply for a Business Credit Card
Obtaining a dedicated business credit card is recommended to keep purchasing and payments separate as well. Business cards don’t rely solely on personal credit scores, making it easier to qualify and obtain higher limits. Expect credit lines around $5,000 – $10,000 to start.
7. Obtain Licenses and Permits
Before installing and operating any ATMs, entrepreneurs must research and acquire all required federal, state, and local licenses and permits. Find federal business requirements through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA also offers a local search tool for state requirements.
At the federal level, ATM operators must register with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) as a money services business. This helps ensure regulatory compliance with anti-money laundering laws. Registration can be completed easily online by creating a user account and submitting basic business information. There is no cost.
States may also require specific ATM licenses, particularly those with greater regulation of the industry like Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. These state ATM licenses allow for legal placement and operation within that jurisdiction and typically cost around $200 annually.
Most cities and counties additionally mandate standard business licenses for all commercial entities, including ATM operators. These help verify the legitimacy of the business and ensure awareness of local rules. Business license fees are generally around $50 – $100 per year.
Zoning permits may be needed to install ATMs in certain designated areas or if any construction modifications are required at a host location. Approval should be obtained before commencing work to avoid violations. Fees range from $150 – $500 depending on the jurisdiction.
Finally, some states mandate ATM operators to register as security guards since they handle cash. These registrations ensure operators have gone through proper vetting and background checks. Costs are typically under $100 annually for security guard cards.
Doing due diligence to get properly licensed at all levels will help ATM entrepreneurs remain compliant. Regularly consulting with qualified legal counsel can also help navigate evolving regulations in this industry.
8. Get Business Insurance
Given the cash handling and security risks in the ATM industry, having adequate business insurance coverage is strongly advised. Being underinsured can put the entire operation in jeopardy if claims or losses occur.
Not carrying general liability insurance means the business is fully responsible for legal expenses if customers are injured at an ATM site and decide to sue. Even frivolous suits can bankrupt unprotected businesses through legal fees alone.
If an ATM is damaged or cash is stolen in a break-in, not having property or crime coverage means bearing the full replacement and monetary losses personally. Just one major incident could make it impossible to continue operating.
Not having worker’s compensation insurance while employing staff exposes the business to cover all costs if an employee gets injured on the job. This creates major financial liabilities.
To get insured, entrepreneurs should first determine the specific policies and coverage amounts needed through a licensed broker or advisor. Useful resources to connect with qualified agents include TrustedChoice.com and NextInsurance.com.
The agent will help evaluate risks, recommend optimal coverage plans, and solicit quotes from reputable providers. Expect to budget around $1,000 – $2,000 annually for comprehensive liability, property damage, and other protection policies recommended for ATM operators.
Being properly insured gives ATM business owners invaluable peace of mind. Having the right policies in place keeps the focus on growing operations, not worrying about incurring catastrophic costs in potential worst-case legal or property damage scenarios down the road.
9. Create an Office Space
Having a dedicated office space can provide ATM operators with key infrastructure to run and grow their business. Here are some potential options entrepreneurs can consider:
A home office offers a convenient and affordable choice for very early-stage operators. Administrative tasks like bookkeeping and customer service can be handled from home to minimize costs when just starting. Expect to invest around $500 – $2,000 to set up a comfortable and functional home workspace.
As the business scales, a coworking space like WeWork provides a step up in professionalism and resources. Coworking spaces offer turnkey offices to rent monthly, with reception services, meeting rooms, WiFi, and other amenities. Average costs range from $300 – $800 per month depending on the location and office size needed.
For more established operators with several employees, leasing a small private office may be better suited long term. This provides dedicated space only for your team and customers, with more flexibility to customize. Average monthly rents start around $1,000 – $2,000 for 1-3 room offices.
Operators with large ATM fleets may benefit from more warehouse-style space for staging, storage, and preventative maintenance work. Small industrial spaces of 2,000 – 5,000 square feet can be leased for $3,000 – $5,000 monthly.
10. Source Your Equipment
The core equipment needed for an ATM operation is the machines themselves. New entrepreneurs have several options to acquire this critical hardware:
Major ATM manufacturers like Triton sell machines directly ranging from $2,000 – $4,000 per unit. New units come with full warranties and the latest features.
Purchasing refurbished or second-hand units can reduce upfront costs substantially. Used ATMs with some wear but good working order run $1,000 – $3,000. Vet quality carefully before purchasing.
Some ATM providers offer short-term rental programs for special events or to test potential sites. Typical rental rates are $100 – $200 monthly per machine. This avoids large capital outlays upfront.
Leasing through an ATM sales company allows the use of new machines without purchasing. However, monthly costs of $150 – $200 per unit are higher long-term than buying.
11. Establish Your Brand Assets
Developing a strong brand is crucial for ATM companies to stand out and be remembered. This starts with securing foundational brand elements like:
Getting a Business Phone Number
Establishing a professional business phone line conveys legitimacy and organization to customers. Services like RingCentral provide toll-free numbers, call routing, voicemail, and other features essential for managing calls professionally.
Creating a Logo and Brand Assets
A polished logo helps new ATM brands craft an identity and recognition. Services like Looka make it easy to develop a custom logo, color palette, typeface, and supporting visual assets. A contemporary, tech-focused logo can align well with the ATM industry.
Having visually consistent designs across all touchpoints, from machine decals to websites to promo items, will strengthen brand recall.
Creating Business Cards and Signage
Business cards enable networking and serve as walking advertisements. Providers like Vistaprint offer quick and affordable card printing. Having cards on hand is useful for introducing the business at trade conventions or sales meetings.
External signage at high-visibility ATM locations also builds awareness. Vistaprint signs convey professionalism to customers engaging with the machines.
Purchasing a Domain Name
Securing a short, memorable domain creates a digital identity. The “.com” version of the brand name should be purchased from registrars like Namecheap. Take time to brainstorm unique, brand-relevant domain options during registration.
Building a Website
ATM operators need an informational website detailing their services, machines, and contact options. Users expect sites to be mobile-friendly and easy to navigate.
12. Join Associations and Groups
Joining relevant local organizations and online communities can provide invaluable connections and growth opportunities for new ATM entrepreneurs.
Industry associations like the ATM Industry Association offer networking, training, and advocacy. Memberships start at around $275 per year. Attending association trade shows to connect with other operators is highly beneficial.
Services like Meetup help locate various local small business meetups to mingle with other entrepreneurs and learn from their experiences. Look for relevant finance or business networking-oriented groups within a reasonable driving distance.
Facebook communities enable crowdsourcing advice from thousands of fellow operators globally. The ATM Business for Beginners has over 70,000 engaged members each.
Participating in these online discussions helps navigate the industry learning curve faster by accessing others’ knowledge.
13. How to Market an ATM Business
Implementing marketing initiatives is essential for ATM companies to attract customers and build their brand. Some proven strategies include:
Leveraging one’s network and cultivating referrals from happy existing customers can provide free and valuable word-of-mouth promotion. Offering rewards or discounts for referrals is one way to incentivize this. For example, giving a $10 credit for every new customer referred creates goodwill and expands reach faster.
Digital Marketing Ideas
- Search engine optimization to improve visibility for online searches like “ATM near me” or “ATM cash withdrawal”
- Google Ads geo-targeted to the service area to attract customers looking for convenient ATM access
- Facebook ads to rapidly test different marketing messages and target demographics
- Email marketing focused on retention and loyalty rather than acquisition
- Content marketing through blogging about ATM technology and business operations
- Live demonstrations on YouTube or TikTok to showcase the machines in action
Traditional Marketing Ideas
- Flyers distributed to local businesses, libraries, and events to provide awareness
- Sponsoring local events, fairs, and festivals with booth presence and signage
- Vehicle wraps or billboards placed in high-traffic areas around town
- Direct mail postcards to neighborhoods announcing new machines and locations
- Newspaper ads touting benefits like no-fee withdrawals or high maximums
- Radio ads with unique value propositions using humor or memorable jingles
While digital channels provide excellent tracking and costs per lead, traditional tactics can assist with branding efforts. Evaluating options based on the target customer profile will guide new operators on where to focus when ramping up their marketing.
14. Focus on the Customer
Providing exceptional customer service is crucial for ATM companies to keep users satisfied and gain referrals. With ample ATM options available, operators need to focus obsessively on service to stand out. Some ways to improve customer focus as an ATM company include:
- Quickly resolving issues when machines malfunction or run out of cash is critical.
- Customers will remember speedy responses that get devices working again promptly, reinforcing reliability.
- Slow repairs or prolonged downtime will erode trust.
- Answering questions and listening to feedback also matter.
- Following up after service calls with emails or calls to ensure issues stay resolved makes a big impression.
- Customers appreciate that extra mile of care.
With so many competitors, service is how ATM operators differentiate. Providing white glove assistance and promptly addressing problems earns loyal users who refer friends and family. However poor service risks losing accounts to other operators. Obsessing over the customer experience, not just hardware, is key.