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First drive-through ATM opens in China

On this day in 2007, Citibank opens China’s first drive-through automated teller machine (ATM) at the Upper East Side Central Plaza in Beijing.

Like those of drive-through restaurants and drive-in movies, the origins of drive-through banking can be traced to the United States. Some sources say that Hillcrest State Bank opened the first drive-through bank in Dallas, Texas, in 1938; others claim the honor belongs to the Exchange National Bank of Chicago in 1946. The trend reached its height in the post-World War II boom era of the late 1950s. Today, nearly all major banks in the United States offer some type of drive-through option, from regular teller service to 24-hour ATMs.

Drive-through banking, like other developments in automobile-centered culture, caught on a bit later in the rest of the world. Switzerland, for example, didn’t get its first drive-through bank until 1962, when Credit Suisse–then known as Schweizerische Kreditanstalt (SKA)–opened a branch in downtown Zurich featuring eight glass pavilions with drive-through banking services. Though popular at first, the branch faltered in the 1970s, when traffic problems in the city center made fewer people willing to do their banking from their cars. SKA closed the drive-through in 1983.

In December 2006, five years after joining the World Trade Organization, China opened its retail banking sector to foreign competition. Under the new regulations Citibank became one of four foreign banks–along with HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia–approved to provide banking services using the Chinese currency, renminbi. (Often abbreviated as RMB, renminbi literally means “people’s money.”) The agreement had been signed in the fall of 2006, and by early December Citi had already opened 70 regular ATMs across the Chinese mainland. 

Initially, the Citibank drive-through ATM that opened in Beijing in August 2007 was available only to holders of bank cards issued abroad, as foreign banks were not yet allowed to issue their own cards in China. Other banks soon hopped on the drive-through banking bandwagon in China, including China Construction Bank, which opened the first drive-through ATM in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou in May 2008.

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