Nudge blog reader Meicheng Shi counts herself among those who’ve left a bank card in an ATM machine. The problem, she says, is the sequence of actions. Living over in New Zealand for the year, Shi says the ATM choice architecture is smarter.
I always forget my debit card in the ATM. Why? My own absent-mindedness is partly to blame, but I like to believe the real culprit is the order of events at an ATM. Here’s what usually happens:
1. Insert debit card. The machine keeps the card for the duration of the transaction.
2. Enter amount of cash to be withdrawn.
3. ATM gives me cash.
4. ATM returns my card.
At step 3, I’ve achieved my objective: I’ve successfully withdrawn cash from the ATM. Therefore, cash in hand and mission accomplished, I walk away, forgetting that my card is still in the machine.
I’m currently living in New Zealand and the ATMs here switch steps 3 and 4–the machine returns my card before it gives me my cash. It’s a simple but ingenious nudge: I would never forget to take the cash (because that’s the reason I went to the ATM in the first place) and since the ATM returns my card first, it prevents forgetful people like me from walking away without their debit cards.
The benefit of the original order is that after you get your cash, the machine can ask about any additional transactions. However, my friend in the US tells me that some of the new ATMs ask about additional transactions, then return your card, and finally give you your money, thus combining the best of both worlds. Just another example of how context can help make psychological weaknesses (like forgetfulness) irrelevant.