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Jack Antonini: From Bulldog to Top Dog

Jack Antonini: From Bulldog to Top Dog

Say you’re on vacation and spend more cash than you expected prowling the French Quarter, visiting funky tourist shops in the Keys or shopping Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. There are always credit cards, but you can’t just slip one to a maitre’d to assure a table by the window.

Fortunately, an ATM is never far away.

When you’re at work and have money coming in, instead of going out, you can make deposits as well as withdrawals at one of the ubiquitous machines. Recently a new technology has surfaced—the ability to electronically image checks. This clears the checks instantly for customers anxious to see them appear in their accounts.

Cardtronics Incorporated in Houston, Texas, is ready to implement this technology, thanks to recent legislation passed in the House of Representatives in the form of the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act.

President and CEO Jack Antonini, a Ferris alumnus, is no stranger to bringing new technology to the market. He headed one of the first U.S. banks to offer online services to customers, even before the Internet was widely available.

Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Antonini met his wife, Susie, while they were in the third grade. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business and Accounting degree from Ferris.

Since Ferris, Antonini has built an impressive resume, which includes holding CEO positions at Globeset, Inc. (Austin, Texas), San Antonio-based USAA Federal Savings Bank and Cardtronics, in Houston, as of this past February.

Antonini took time from his busy schedule to talk about Cardtronics and the new technology available.

C&G: How would you describe what it is that Cardtronics does?

JA: We’re a deployer of ATMs. We sell them to other companies, which then sell them to banks, convenience stores and similar places. Also, we sell ATMs directly to various stores and companies wanting to buy and process through us.

We own our own machines, as well, putting them in major corporate partners’ hands such as Exxon Mobil, Phillips 66 and Sunoco. The large corporate accounts equal about 50-55 percent of the business. It’s the area we have been emphasizing here for the last couple of years.

About 35-40 percent of our business comes from dealing with people we sell equipment to and do the processing for. Then, the selling of ATM equipment represents roughly 10 percent of our business.

C&G: The Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act recently passed the House of Representatives. When it becomes law, how is that going to affect your business, and could you also explain a little bit about that legislation?

JA: What’s really unique about this act is that it gives legal standing to an image of a check.

Banks go through this massive proof of deposit operation, actually taking the millions of checks they get every day and sending the physical documents to either a federal bank or a clearing house. Then the check is sent back to the original bank it was drawn on.

Electronically what can happen now is a bank will take those checks, still handling them much the same way, except every so often, they will run them through an image scanner, allowing them to process the checks.

We will be able to do that same thing with an ATM image of a check. While the customer is standing at the ATM, we will electronically send the check back to the bank it was drawn on, clear it for the customer and then give the customer credit for it in his or her account.

It’s really quite a neat arrangement, making it much faster and easier and dramatically lowering the cost for the banking industry.

C&G: Are there any limitations to this act for either the banks or customers?

JA: For checks that are deposited at a bank, it’s still going to require the bank to handle the paper item. Also, checks that come in the mail still need to be handled by a person, which takes longer.

With this legislation combined with the new technology, when a customer deposits a check at an ATM, it will actually print the check right on the receipt as a small image. It’s a dramatic change for a banking industry used to processing paper checks.

C&G: What about security?

JA: If there’s somebody trying to forge a document, banks can catch it faster with imaging. They can compare an electronic image to the original document to see whether or not it’s been altered. It should actually improve security.

C&G: USAA was one of the few banks in 1995 to allow customers to use their personal computers to gain access to information. How did you get involved so early on with that kind of technology?

JA: We were trying to find a way to allow banking to be more convenient for our customers, recognizing that we didn’t have branches.

In late 1992, there were people experimenting with advanced telephones that had a screen on the phone, almost like a computer, but that didn’t look as though it was going to be robust enough to allow people to do everything they wanted. We decided to really pursue alternative means.

Although the Internet was not commercially viable back then, we found a software company that would build software to our specifications, allowing our customers to access their USAA bank accounts. They could also transfer money in and out of our bank, order checks and pay their bills.

In 1993, we put together a network through AT&T, which allowed our customers to dial in toll-free so they could log-in their PC and bank from home. By 1995, there were several thousand customers using this network system.

C&G: What brought you to Ferris?

JA: Two things really: my brother and the number of Business courses offered. My brother, who was the first one in our family to attend college, went to Ferris.

After high school, I applied and got accepted to the University of Michigan, Michigan State, U of M Dearborn and many others.

What I really liked about Ferris, though, was that I was able to take more Business courses earlier on in my college career, allowing me to see if I wanted to pursue a career in business or not.

C&G: What do you still hope to accomplish for yourself and for Cardtronics?

JA: I look at what we managed to do at USAA—growing it from a $40 million to a $10 billion company. Part of the appeal of being at Cardtronics is that it’s a good company with a good strong revenue base and a nice position in its unique market niche. I was looking for something that had a unique competitive advantage or strategic opportunity and found those things at Cardtronics.

I’m the kind of person who’s always looking for a challenge—I’m not comfortable just sitting around doing nothing. Fortunately, I have a wonderful, supportive wife who has helped me tremendously. And now there are a lot of wonderful people at Cardtronics, who I really enjoy working with. It’s a lot of fun.