From copiers to ATMs, it's all about convenience for Access to Money

As we shun credit cards and their high fees in favor of cash, many of us are hitting automated teller machines more frequently.

But if we’re not careful, tapping some ATMs can incur other fees.

Bank customers who stick to their ATM network generally don’t pay fees. The biggest U.S. network run by a bank is Bank of America’s with 18,532 machines.

Then there’s a bunch of “independent sales organizations” that own and operate ATMs, splitting per-transaction surcharges with the owners of locations where they place their machines: convenience stores, movie theaters, hotels, restaurants, pharmacies and stadiums.

I was surprised to learn that one of the largest such ISOs is based in Cherry Hill.

Access to Money Inc., which was known as TRM Corp. until last month, operates about 11,400 ATMs. (According to ATM & Debit News, the biggest ISO is Houston’s Cardtronics Inc. with 33,100 machines.)

TRM had been a Portland, Ore., company that, starting in the early ’80s, put self-service photocopiers in all sorts of retail settings.

With laptops and laser printers now in most homes, Access to Money CEO Richard Stern said the company had to adapt. So it looked for another machine consumers would seek out in high-traffic areas. In 1998, that led TRM to ATMs, and attracted Philadelphia investors, among them financiers Edward Cohen and his son, Daniel Cohen.

TRM got big in the ATM business quickly and took on a lot of debt. Too much, as it turned out. Financial difficulties led TRM to sell its copy business to pay down debt.

Stern, who became CEO in June 2007, said he wanted to strengthen its ATM operations by bringing in some new expertise. In April 2008, TRM bought a competitor, the Whippany, N.J.-based Access to Money, in a deal worth more than $14 million.

The acquisition led Stern to move TRM’s operations from the West Coast to New Jersey. (Because of its Philadelphia investors, TRM’s executive offices have been in the region for several years.)

Last month, shareholders approved the name change to Access to Money, which Stern said better reflects what the company provides.

However, access to profits isn’t easy for ISOs. Cardtronics lost $70 million in 2008, while Access to Money lost $26.1 million.