12 Apr 2013 Is a cashless society really on the cards? I hope not
I recently had a conversation about the cashless society. It’s coming soon apparently. The technology is mature. We trust card payments now as much as we trust conventional currency but I for one don’t think we’re ready for it. The technology has to become a little more human first.
Whenever I pay for something by card, I really don’t like those few moments before the transaction is completed when I’m made to feel uncomfortable – just for a second. Like the feeling you get when you see a police car in your rear view mirror, you suddenly feel guilty – not of anything specific – just guilty. I’m not referring to that feeling of mild panic you get when you worry that you have already maxed out your credit card. I mean the moment of anxiety you feel when, despite your knowledge that your finances are in good shape, they need to check you out. There’s something about the way card transactions are handled that makes you feel awkward.
Imagine you went into a grocery store to buy a few small items and, when paying at the counter, the cashier inspected your cash. Everything is put on hold for a few moments. They look you in the eye like you’re the chief suspect as they examine the cash you’ve handed over. They hold it up to the sunlight – scan it under ultra violet – then declare in a loud voice “currency genuine!”. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. You’re free to go.
You’d be taken aback by that. You’d think “of course my cash is genuine. What do you take me for?” So why is it then OK, when paying for goods at a self service till in a super market, for the payment machine to declare loudly, after checking you credit worthiness, “Card Accepted” or “Payment Approved”. Why not just say “Thank you”?
Am I being overly fussy? Is it just me that get’s irritated at the language and conventions of a card transaction? “Hand back to Merchant”. Who uses the word “Merchant” in 2013? I’m paying for a Big Mac at a McDonald’s drive in – not trading silk and spices in the Orient.
Why do we allow the technology to do the talking? When, in the real world, the cashier says “thank you”, they’re actually distilling a complex business process into a polite acknowledgement. It’s an abbreviation for what they are really saying: “you’ve taken delivery of goods I have offered for sale and you have delivered currency that I accept as full settlement.” They do check the notes. They discreetly rub the the paper to check it is consistent with legitimate currency – they note, albeit subconsciously, the size and weight of coins – they make a visual check – then they say “thank you”. They don’t make a song and dance of it and they don’t make you feel like a potential fraudster.
Technology has come a long way but if it is to become even further embedded in the way we do things, it has to fit in with the way we like to behave. I don’t want to know that I’m being checked up on when I pay by card. I don’t want the embarrassing silence when the banking network is slow. I just want to pay and I just want someone to say “thank you”.
Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin