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All that glitters is gold, and silver, at this ATM
[SINGAPORE] Automated teller machines (ATMs) that dispense gold have landed at Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa.
You can't miss them, cloaked as they are in "gold" paint.
The two machines, launched on Wednesday by Asia Gold ATM, are Asia's first, and make Singapore the fourth place in the world to have such facilities, after the UAE, the UK and the US.
Kong Kok Chee, the Malaysian chief executive of Asia Gold ATM, when asked why he chose Singapore for the company's first foray, replied that the government's 2012 abolishment of Goods & Services levies on gold and other precious metals pretty much sealed the deal for him, but he added that the Republic's central location and its importance as a financial and gold trading hub were also significant factors.
The company also said it saw potential for gold-dispensing ATMs in Singapore, the destination of thousands of affluent tourists from across the world.
ATMs that spit out money are ubiquitous, but what happens in an encounter with one that spits out gold bars of one and 10 grams, silver ingots, coins and even a gold ingot with a Merlion design, all of 24K, 999.9 purity?
Payment for the items, crafted by Swiss gold company PAMP, is by credit card or cash. The machines don't give change, so buyers who don't have the exact amount due will have to pay extra.
The market price of gold applies, and the items are repriced at intervals through the system's cloud server.
To do a transaction, you are first prompted to "Touch screen to begin".
Next up, pick your language - English, Chinese, German, Russian or Arabic.
A 3D display of the machine's stock appears. You can even choose to make a gift of a particular item; for this, you pay for it and are issued a redemption code, and the person to whom you are giving the item can redeem it later.
The PAMP Merlion ingot comes in a one-gram size, and is being offered ahead of the nation's 50th anniversary celebrations next year; Asia Gold ATM worked closely with the Singapore Tourism Board on this.
Mr Kong said the ATMs cater to locals and tourists.
"We want to give tourists something that they can collect and keep. You tend to buy and lose souvenirs, but for gold products, you tend to keep them for a very, very long time, and pass the item down from generation to generation."
After payment is made for the purchase, the machine offers the customer a final bit of kitsch - the opportunity to get a selfie taken using its built-in camera and to receive the photograph by e-mail.
Mr Kong said he came up with the idea of introducing consumers in Asia to a modern, convenient way to shop for gold a few years ago.
"We are basically a gold retailer", he said.
But Asia Gold ATM couldn't be further from the traditional brick-and-mortar goldsmith's shop: In the place of a human sales assistant who talks to you and might even ply you with refreshments, the ATMs are equipped with 3D product-image support software, artificial intelligence and interactive and data-capturing technologies, including that which does stock-taking. The company took nearly two years to develop these systems.
Now, even after the launch of the ATMs, Mr Kong is keeping an eye on his business strategy. Rather than target every sector, he is banking on the machines' incorporated artificial intelligence to collect data that will help in the planning of designs for specific products that meet the target market's preferences.
The company is focused on just the Smart Gold ATM for now.
Mr Kong said he plans to install "two to three" more ATMs in high-traffic locations before the end of the year; come next year, he will start charting a regional expansion.