PLEASE NOTE: “As an Amazon Associate, [Need Coffee] earns from qualifying purchases." You know we make money from Amazon links,
and I know you know this, but they make us say it anyway. More info, click here.

The World’s Most Southerly ATM: An Interview With Wells Fargo’s David Parker

Wells Fargo ATMs at McMurdo Station, Antarctica
The Wells Fargo ATMs at McMurdo Station in Antarctica

DP: You know, the other thing too that you may find interesting–I don’t know how much you know about folks that need to go down to Antarctica–it’s a huge process to do it. So when we’re preparing for the vendor visit, it’s like a ten-month process.

W: Wow.

DP: The reason being is, they obviously go in the off-season when it’s obviously warmer because no planes fly onto the ice in their winter months. And so anybody that goes to Antarctica has to be cleared with a physical, a dental, and a psychological evaluation, because if for some reason the plane can’t get out, you’re trapped down there until the next season.

W: Right. So if you send a vendor down there to work on ATMs and there’s only two to work on, he’d probably better take some knitting with him or something.

DP: (laughs) Right…correct.

W: That’s wild.

[ad#rightpost]DP: And a lot of times, I think they go down first to Auckland, New Zealand and they’re put on hold until their priority comes up to get on the plane to Antarctica. And the priorities are different, as you can imagine. I think one of the first priorities is the trash…so getting the trash out of McMurdo takes precedence over some of the other stuff. The flights in and out are all prioritized.

W: Right, of course. So trash, medical…but then if for some reason both ATMS were down, that would probably bump up his priority since otherwise they’d be writing IOUs on scraps of paper or something.

DP: Yeah, I’m sure that they would.

W: That’s interesting. So is there a particular one vendor guy who is the “Antarctica Guy” that you use who is like the veteran of going to Antarctica to work on this thing, or does it rotate out or something?

DP: It rotates out, and I think it’s the manufacturer’s vendor that we send down…in other words, the folks that we bought the physical ATM box from…that actually go down and do the preventative maintenance, and I think probably the last couple trips it’s been the same, but I know there’s been other folks involved before.

W: I can just see if they give the assignments out like as they come in…you know, you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and suddenly your next ten months are spoken for, I guess.

DP: (laughs) Fortunately, nobody has ever missed it where they weren’t able to get back out and had to stay until the next season. So you know, they go down, they do whatever they need to do, and they may be there for three or four days, or maybe a week, and they’re able to get out.

W: Mmmm…okay. I just mean the ten-month process of being set up to get down there, like you were talking about.

DP: Right. One other thing I wanted to correct something I said earlier, when you asked the question–you didn’t have a Wells Fargo account and how much would it cost you…and actually, there is no surcharge at those ATMs. Raytheon who owns the stuff going on down there at McMurdo Station didn’t want to charge their employees for that, and so we took that into consideration when we do our analysis as far as financials, so they’re actually making up that difference for them.

W: Oh, well, so one gets a better deal on using the ATM at the end of the world than down the street.

DP: Yeah, because anybody who’s using it there are employees.

W: Yes, of course, it makes sense. Now, David, let me ask you this–because every once in a while, ATMs get upgraded. Are those the same machines that were installed back in ’98…are they still there? Or at what point do you say “We need to bring in the 2000 model” or something?

DP: That’s a good question, and no…they are not the same ATMs. We actually swapped them out. They became part of our normal hardware refresh project and actually swapped them out during one of those vendor visits. And I think we probably did that maybe…four years ago or so.

W: Okay, so that’s four years ago…so that would be about an eight-year life. So that’s not too bad.

DP: And you know, it’s like a car. If you drive it a lot of miles, the life is shorter…the same with an ATM. And obviously you can imagine that the transactions at this location are not what they would be on Main Street, USA. So the life would probably be a little bit longer.

W: Hmmm. That makes sense. Well, David, I think that’s all the questions that I had. I think that’s quite fascinating and I’m sure our readers will think so as well. I appreciate you talking to us about it.

DP: You’re very welcome.

Many thanks to David for taking the time to talk to us and thanks as well to Richele at Wells Fargo for giving us the opportunity to chat.

Go back to Page 1.


  • Widge:

    I’m curious what he meant by “recycling” the cash–do the employees restock the machine or something? The answer seemed obvious to you, but I got confused. How did you take him to mean that? Interesting interview, by the way. Thanks for posting it!


  • BD: What I took him to mean is that because McMurdo is a very finite space–as opposed to your local ATM where money could easily wind up across the country–they only need X amount to take care of the place for Y amount of time. Eventually you put enough cash in an environment and you’re covered. That being said, I’m thinking it’s even less of an issue these days with debit and credit cards. That would be a followup question at some point: how has the usage of the machines dropped with time? Because just like Antarctica was a dress rehearsal for a Y2K-friendly machine, Antarctica would probably go completely and utterly cashless before anywhere else.

    Thanks for the comment!

  • I have used the ATMs at McMurdo several times. I was deployed in support of the US Antarctic Program, at South Pole Station in 2007/2008.

    At both stations (and I would assume Palmer Station, though I have yet to visit there) there is a general store which also handles free movie rentals. Alcohol, snacks and souvenirs are sold to resident workers and visiting dignitaries.

    As a Wells Fargo customer who lives in Colorado, I paid no fees to use the ATMs. Which is amazing, as Wells Fargo is ridiculously militant about charging high fees to use anyone else’s ATMs.

    Additionally, as all phone service is VOIP, your local telephone calls from the US bases come out to the terrestrial network in Colorado, hence, it is a local call to my Colorado friends, even from one of the most remote places on Earth (when the satellites are visible).

  • Bouldergeek: Thanks for the comment: lots of good information. If you ever find yourself back on the ice, access Needcoffee and send me an e-mail. I’ve been trying for years to get confirmed traffic from all seven continents. Six down, that last icy one to go.

  • I’m not so amazed at the cashpoints being there, more at how Americans will put wood trim or panelling or literally anything…
    The rest of the world salutes you, your tastelessness knows no bounds !

  • Posting from Antarctica! Figured I’d try again via an SSH tunnel since your site thinks I’m spam when using any conventional method … hrm.

    The lines terminating in Denver is great. I changed my Google Voice number to a Denver one, thus I can call it for free, then from there the entire USA! woohoo! :)

  • Nate: That’s a good question…I appreciate everybody’s comments with other questions. My plan is to get enough of those and do a quick followup, probably over email…

  • There is a difference between McMurdo (where the ATM is) and South Pole. McMurdo has 24x7x365 coverage, due to their latitude position. South Pole does not, for the same reason.

    Without knowing how the ATM communicates (I would assume encrypted phone transfers via VOIP, but what do I know), it should be able to function at McMurdo just like any ATM in another location.

    There are no ATMs at South Pole.

  • Wells Fargo has an ATM in Antarctica and yet they still don’t have service in Oklahoma….

  • why do they even need cash at all there? i would have thought everyone’s using debit cards and such for everything from stores to coffee machines down there.

  • Commenting from South Pole! A friend sent me a link to your interview. As another Polie already mentioned here, we don’t have ATMs at Pole since our satellite coverage isn’t continuous. We also don’t have credit card or debit card usage for the store. We request a certain amount of money deducted from our paychecks and our HR guy hands us the cash every two weeks — or for the people who aren’t Raytheon employees, they write checks for cash. We use it to buy personal stuff in the station store: alcohol, cigarettes, soda, candy, toiletries, etc. There are also souvenirs like clothing and postcards and such, but that section obviously doesn’t get much traffic in the middle of winter when there is no traffic going in or out of the station. This year we have 47 winterovers (36 men and 11 women) and we’re looking forward to seeing the sun again in a few weeks.

  • Where does the recycled money come from? I’m sure those ATMs don’t take deposits for incoming cash so how do they “recycle” cash?

  • Also, if the people there are trained for maintenance, why would you need the vendor after 2 years? I find the story very intriguing!

  • Mr. Parker said he wasn’t quite sure what they were doing before the ATM was installed – there was a man on the History Channel TV show “Pawn Stars” that had a receipt from one of these very ATMs who explained it. Apparently they had about 6 people down there to dispense cash and putting an ATM in saved the government a lot of money and made more room for the scientists. You can read the transcript of the episode here, starting at about 00:12:45:

  • Erik: Excellent find. That had to have sucked for the six guys after they got downsized. “It says here on your resume that you used to…dispense cash at the end of the earth? And that…qualifies you to do…what, exactly?”

  • I’m currently in McMurdo at the moment. To answer the questions as to why we would need an ATM, there’s only one place that accepts debit/credit cards and that’s the store here. Everywhere else(bars, post office, poker games etc.) all require cash. And a purchase in the store requires $8 for a debit/credit transaction, and some people only need a $3 toothbrush. Plus, it’s a backup for technology. Like as of right now, out store’s security softwear for Visa and Mastercards are outdated. They told us that at any time, their POS may reject our cards. It hasn’t happened yet, and only 3 weeks until the first flight of the season. Hopefully that answers some questions.

  • FatDad: Hell, that’s a great question. Are there ATMs that give you a choice of currency? If I ever come round and talk to them again, I’ll ask.

  • The bastards were always out of deposit envelopes making night deposits impossible. This all snowballing into over 3k in overages over the course of two years with them before they decided to drop me.

  • Hi Ryan: Um…are you saying this about Wells Fargo in general? Or just the ATM in Antarctica? Because I have to admit, your use of the word “snowballing” in this context makes me wonder if you’re being serious. Well, you’re on this website…and I know we’re hardly ever serious. So.

  • This is fascinating. Can you wire money to someone in Antarctica? How long would it take?

  • Troika: I assume it wouldn’t take any time at all. Most money moves around electronically as it is, so as long as the Internet’s working, I would guess you could get zapped some money.