New and future ways you can spend money
The Bank of England has just introduced its first plastic banknote: a marine blue fiver with an image of Winston Churchill on the front and a fancy hologram showing Big Ben. In early 2017, we will also be getting a new pound coin (billed to be the most counterfeit-proof in the world).
Still, you can’t help feeling that the clock is ticking for physical tender. There are just so many easier ways to pay.
Transport becomes change-free… at least in London
You only have to take a trip to London to see how, in some areas of life, spending has already gone almost completely cash-free. It is no longer possible to buy a ticket on a London bus, but don’t worry – you can use your Oyster card, and it’s cheaper. If you don’t have your Oyster card with you, you can always use your brand new contactless credit card (OK, they’re not much of a novelty any more). Failing all this, you can even use your phone.
In fact, more and more people are now using their phones to pay their bus, train and tube fares. The rapid refinement of once crude QR code technology is opening up public transport to not only a cash-free future but a wallet-free future. Transport for London (TFL) has not been shy about their ambition. To keep the city of London on the move, they say, they want to grab new technologies the moment they appear and integrate them into their payment systems.
From in your hand to on your wrist
Expect plenty more transactions to move online in the next couple of years. You can now use smartphones as you would use a contactless card, doing your weekly shop or paying for breakfast at a hipster café. The technologies behind this revolution are racing ahead, among other reasons, because there is no obvious dominant player in the market. The competition this generates is fuelling a race to develop ever more advanced point of sale (POS) technologies. The finish line of this technological race, by the look of it, will more likely than not be the death of the debit card.
There is also the world of wearable payment devices. Smartwatches have been a bit of a geeky outfit for years until Apple came along with their unashamedly sartorial redesign of the device. Gone are the toothpick-sized arrays of buttons; gone are the reptilian ‘sports’ styled plastic straps. Apple’s watch has heralded in a new generation of watches that not only want to be noticed but are also desperate to offer new functionality (a cynic might say they need a raison d’être beyond just being lovely and shiny).
This revolution in the humble watch is generating understandable excitement within both the retail industry and the financial world. High street fashion outlets are incorporating wearable tech into their ranges. Topshop has teamed up with Barclays and recently unveiled a range of payment ‘bracelets’, keyrings, and even stickers. We are not sure how much scope there is for accidentally paying for somebody else’s groceries as you brush past a till – but you can be sure these little challenges will be no obstacle.
Big changes, easier small payments
As money becomes infinitely more bearable, wearable – and apparently stickable – we will increasingly find our relationships to it changing as well. Small payments are getting ever easier, and increasingly no longer involve the ritual rooting around in the bottom of your pockets between your keys and pocket fluff for that desperately needed five pence. This is inevitably going to make us more impulsive shoppers. The old mantra of the quick salesman – “why not?” – is an ever more difficult question to answer.
Consumers and businesses affected
Of course, it is not just shoppers who are already having to adapt to this brave new cash-free world. Services will need to change as well. Restaurants in many parts of the world have built tipping into their business model. The opportunity to pay using credit instead of cash removes one opportunity to leave a little change behind. As eateries adapted to this by offering ‘Tip? Yes / No’ questions on card readers, they were again stumped by the march of contactless. As money jumps from card to phone to clothing, the services industry will have to keep up.
Where this leaves us as shoppers is uncertain, and it is hard not to feel a little nostalgic regret as time appears close to being called on cheques, pennies and paper money. With them will go not only a certain amount of inconvenience but also the slight spending restraint this affords. In their place, a whole new world of choice is opening up – and as it does, we will have to learn to be a little more self-controlled when we pop out to the shops.
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