At a time when mobile banking and mobile payments dominate the financial news, it is easy to forget about the humble automated teller machine (ATM). Customers take them for granted, until an IT glitch prevents them from withdrawing their money, that is. Only a couple of weeks have passed since the latest media uproar caused by a computer failure at the UK’s Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest. The Daily Mail responded immediately with an alarming title, “'Cyber Monday' computer meltdown EMPTIES customers' accounts and leaves millions unable to access cash.”

Yet the ATM is a huge success story. It has provided access to cash outside of banks’ working hours and extended banking services to millions of people. And the ATM network continues to expand worldwide. Recently, The Guardian’s Data Blog mulled over the World Bank’s ATM data, highlighting some more or less surprising facts. That Brazil has more ATMs than any other country could be understandable, seeing as it is the fifth-biggest country in the world in terms of population. However, with three ATMs for every 1,000 adults, Moldova tops the list of most ATMs in per capita terms. Except that the data is not quite right. According to the Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems (CPSS), China had the most ATMs overall in 2012. And according to the National Bank of Moldova, Moldova had only 982 ATMs in the period January-September 2013, so with an adult population of 2.8 million, its rate of 0.34 ATMs per 1,000 adults is less impressive. Not to say it won't ever top the list. In the same period, the number of ATMs grew by 8.6% year-on-year. Indeed, it is the less developed countries that represent the biggest ATM opportunity. According to the CPSS, both China and India have seen double-digit annual growth in ATMs since 2008. In 2012 alone, the number of ATMs in China increased by 24.5% from the previous year.

What does this mean for banks? Or, more importantly, where is it all going? As I argued in my last report, cash is going nowhere and neither is the cash machine, so banks must use ATMs to boost sales and generate revenue — particularly given that today's ATMs are not what they used to be, having undergone a proper, innovation-driven facelift. Opportunities beckon for those who dare.

P.S. And the answer to the title question? In 2011 (no data available for 2012), it was still South Korea, with 2.82 ATMs per 1,000 adults, according to the International Monetary Fund's Financial Access Survey.