A trend towards increased financial self-service automation in China's banking sector is driving worldwide sales of NCR's automated teller machines (ATMs), helping keep the company afloat in the economic slowdown. 'Demand for ATMs in developing markets like China has helped soften the blow of this recession,' said Lars Nyberg, NCR chairman and chief executive. 'Clearly, business in the United States has been slower and business in the Asia-Pacific, particularly in countries like China and India, is better.' The enormous potential of ATM sales in the mainland, with a population of 1.3 billion, was based on the country's low density of ATMs per million people and impending competition from foreign banks. 'The number of ATMs per one million people in the United States is about 1,100. In China, that figure is 17 and in India it's three,' he said. China's admission to the World Trade Organisation had sharpened the resolve of the four large state-run commercial banks - the Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China - to build up their ability to serve and retain clients against the more customer-oriented foreign banks, he said. Ohio-based NCR, the world's leading supplier of ATMs, recently announced that it had clinched a US$13 million deal with the Bank of China for the supply of advanced ATMs. In addition to traditional cash dispensing, the new Personas-brand ATMs from NCR will give Bank of China branches the capability to offer additional automated services, such as passbook printing, account inquires and bill payment. Albert Tsang, vice-president of NCR's Greater China financial solutions division, said the new contract, which followed a US$14 million deal between NCR and Bank of China in November last year, showed the trend towards increased financial self-service automation in the mainland. In March, NCR announced a US$1.5 million deal with the Tianjin branch of the Agricultural Bank of China for the purchase of similar Personas ATMs. Last year, NCR also won a contract of more than US$2 million with the Beijing branch of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, as well as another ATM bulk-purchase order from the China Construction Bank in Guangdong. Mr Nyberg said the estimates of the number of bank branches in China and the population's preference for cash-based transactions were the other key factors that showed the vast potential for increased ATM installations in the mainland. Mr Tsang said NCR has decided to raise its production capacity in China in anticipation of increased demand on the mainland, in Hong Kong and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region. The joint-venture plant of the NCR (Beijing) Financial Equipment System Co caters for an annual market of 40,000 ATMs on the mainland, 42 per cent of which use NCR's models. NCR's other manufacturing plants are in Dundee, Scotland, and Waterloo, Canada. Mr Tsang said NCR also supplied ATMs to the Bank of Communications, Huaxia Bank, China Minsheng Bank, postal banks, development banks and credit unions across the mainland. NCR expected to continue posting record double-digit growth in ATM sales in Greater China. NCR has a 90 per cent share of the ATM market in Hong Kong and more than 30 per cent worldwide against such rivals as Diebold of Ohio and Tidel Technologies of Texas. NCR claims about 40 million cash transactions daily are supported by its ATMs around the world. Depending on their configuration, the firm's ATMs cost between US$30,000 and US$50,000 each, Mr Tsang said. In June, an independent study by the Nilson Report, a publication that covers consumer payment systems worldwide, said NCR outpaced its rivals in the ATM business for the 14th consecutive year. It estimated that NCR's record sales of more than 50,000 units last year put it ahead of rivals and reflected a global growth in the ATM business, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. NCR credited that record shipment of ATMs worldwide for the US$2.8 billion in total revenue last year from its financial self-service and retail-store automation businesses.