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"Let a million ATMs bloom"

Big Blue is a big bull on China. Former Citibank man, Kent Price, now general manager for banking at IBM in Asia Pacific, has written a report forecasting an ATM revolution, with IBM at the forefront.

In From the Abacus to the atm: The Technological Revolution in Chinese Banking, Price can hardly contain his enthusiasm. "Letting a million ATMs bloom across China is the quickest way to get cash out of mattresses," he writes, and adds: "We now have a vision of one billion bank accounts, tied together by the latest technology, into a smoothly humming, world-leading financial system, able to mobilize funds at the touch of a button across the vastness of China and beyond."

He admits there are a few problems before this smoothly humming vision is arrived at. The People's Bank of China (PBC) may have an aggregate total of 110,000 offices and 1.3 million employees, yet "even in the most up-to-date branches," says Price "the technology in operation is no further advanced than where US banks were in the 1930s."

Citibank's Shanghai branch permits customers to access its global network, but no Chinese bank has yet even a nationwide network of automated teller machines and "sometimes not even a network in one city", says Price.

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