With or Without Conversion: How ATMs Get Foreigners to Take Out too Much, then Apply Extortionate Exchange Rates


Euronet Worldwide, a US-based electronic payments provider, was operating 24,761 ATMs worldwide by March 2016. One year later they had another 10,000. The sight of Euronet ATMs has become ubiquitous in the centers of European cities like Prague, Berlin, and Budapest. Some streets have one every three buildings. Shops, restaurants, and exchange offices pocket handsome rewards in exchange for hosting these machines. Euronet is increasingly opening more and more of its own ‘branches,’ nests of ATMs, but nothing else.

What drives this growth?

One way ATMs make money today is by offering Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). DCC is a service by which ATM operators offer customers to convert the withdrawal amount into their home currency when taking out money abroad.

DCC is the reason why ATMs abroad often ‘offer conversion to your home currency’ or ask whether you want want your money ‘with or without conversion.’ Of course, when the money on your account is in one currency and the cash that comes out of the machine is in another, the money is converted, regardless of your choice. The ATM operator is really just asking for permission to handle the conversion.

  • ‘With conversion’ means the bank or company that operates the ATMs does the conversion.
  • ‘Without conversion’ means your home bank or credit card company does the conversion.

Whoever does the conversion applies an exchange rate. Setting that rate effectively allows them to take a cut. And this is the point: ATM operators tend to take big cuts. They offer bad exchange rates*.

It’s a scam that goes by the name of Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) (..) The only thing more likely to screw you over than your bank, is a foreign bank.

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The difference between the rates offered can be as much as 10% or more. This means that if you take out €100 worth of cash, your account might be charged either €102 or €112.2 depending on which option you chose. That’s an extra €10.2 for taking out money just once.

It might not be a coincidence then that Euronet ATMs tend to congregate in the centers of cities where there are lots of tourists and visitors carrying foreign credit cards. They are rarely seen in the suburbs or smaller towns.

Euronet is also oddly persistent in getting customers to choose their exchange rates and in nudging them towards taking out as much money as possible.

This is the withdrawal process at one of Euronet’s ATMs in Prague, Czech Republic (where the local currency is Czech Crowns):

 

Suggested amounts using a local (Czech Crowns) card

Amounts range from 200 CZK to 2000 CZK (roughly 7 EUR to 74 EUR). If you select “other amount” you are asked to type in an amount. The amounts are sorted from lowest to highest.

 

Suggested amounts using a foreign (Euro) card

In the place of what would otherwise be 200 CZK (7 EUR) you now get 20,000 CZK (740 EUR). The amounts now range from 10,000 to 40,000 CZK (370 EUR – 1480 EUR). The amounts are not in order.

Suggested amounts using a foreign (Euro) card – after you press ‘Other Amount’

This time, when you select “other amount” you don’t get to type in an amount but instead you are given suggestions again. They are still much higher than anything they would suggest to you if you were using a Czech card. The amounts are not in order.

With or Without Conversion

On the left: Your home bank or credit card company does the conversion. Euronet can’t display the rate. On the right: Euronet does the conversion. Euronet states their exchange rate (“plus markup” but “without commission”). There is little information about the option on the left which makes the option on the right appear safer.

The ‘with conversion’ cautionary screen

Only when choosing ‘without conversion’ are you asked to confirm this choice. The warning reads “No Guarantee of Exchange Rate” making the option on the left sound dangerous. The button they don’t want you to press looks red making it look like ‘cancel.’

 

*Of course avoiding DCC is not necessarily always the better option; it’s always best to ask your bank what you will be charged.


Have you ever had an experience, good or bad, with Euronet or Dynamic Currency Conversion and would you like to share it?

 

Big thanks to Broadcast Atlanta for producing the video.


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