[Dave Birch] Whenever I say something about looking forward to the day when the inequitable and pernicious technology of cash is consigned to the piggybank of history, there are a number of standard objections and comments as to the devastating impact of this change on society. A common category of issue is “street commerce”. In particular, the question of cash donations to buskers and beggars. I always thought that technology would find a way.

Today Thursday 26th August, the chink of change was replaced by the tap of a card as passers-by used contactless technology to give money to the UK’s first ever cashless busker… Accepting contactless cards only, not cash, busker Peter Buffery entertained crowds on his specially designed guitar – fully equipped with contactless technology for listeners to make a donation to charity using cards provided by Barclays and Barclaycard.

[From Digital Money: Fail safe]

As I said at the time, “Of course this is a media stunt (and quite a good one). As we all know, it will be the mobile phone—not POS guitars—that spell the end for cash”. And, indeed, this has come to pass. In the US, where plugging a Square into an iPhone and accepting card payments is de rigeur, the buskers, panhandlers and charity box handlers have adopted the technology.

Homeless guy Mark aka “Madwhite” is raking in a lot more dough now that he accepts Square, Visa, MasterCard or DiscoverCard transactions. In fact, he’s making 4 times what he normally makes because he says now people can’t use the ”I have no cash” excuse… Once they swipe their credit card, he even lets them know it’s a tax write off!

[From Homeless Guy makes more money using Square and mobile payments – The Next Web]

UPDATE 3rd October 2011: “Madwhite” turns out to be fake, which makes my following comment look positively incisive.

Now I have to say that I would extremely reluctant to hand over my credit card details and signature to a chap in the street (Squares aren’t secure, and as we discovered for ourselves in the Consult Hyperion “Hyperlab” it doesn’t take long to write a simple application to look like Square and simply steal the stripe card details) although I’d be happy to use “tap and go” contactless cards or phones for the same purpose. I wonder why Transport for London doesn’t install a yellow button at every buskers’ pitch in London so that passers-by can simply tap there cards to give a quid to the deserving musician. For me it’s a security issue: stripes aren’t secure, chips are.

The Square story reminded me of something I read last year about replacing cash with cards at the charity nexus so I looked it up. Now, as I said, I wouldn’t give a stripe card in payment to a panhandler, but other people are more cavalier (or compassionate) with their plastic.

In New York City, an advertising executive recently handed over her American Express Platinum Card to a homeless Manhattan man after he had asked her for change. The man, who had been without home after losing a job, used the card to buy $25 worth of deodorant, water and cigarettes. And then he returned the card.

[From How panhandlers use free credit cards – thestar.com]

I assume that because the charge wasn’t over $25, no signature was required. But more interestingly, the article goes on to describe an experiment giving beggars a prepaid card instead of cash. That way, you can log in and see what they’ve been spending the money on! Brilliant idea. If you that kind of social conscience, you can keep a stack of prepaid cards about your person and when you come across a particularly deserving case, you give them the card instead of £20 note then go home, log in and enjoy the warm glow munificence as the charges scroll past on your screen: organic apples, chemical-free water from Icelandic glaciers, vitamin supplements and self-help books, that sort of thing.

Now, personally, I absolutely never give money to anyone in the street—whether chuggers or bums—because I already pay huge amount of tax and have direct debits set up to the charities that my family choose to support specifically. But I were going to do so, it would definitely be this way, because once I’d done it, I would never be tempted to again! In the Canadian experiment referred to by the article, the majority of the beggars who needed money for food, their sister’s eye operation or the bus ride to their dying grandmother actually used the cards to buy… yes, you guessed it, not Gwyneth Paltrow-style vegetarian sushi but booze and fags. Technology might change, but human nature remains steadfast.

These are personal opinions and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinions of 
Consult Hyperion or any of its clients or suppliers

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