[Dave Birch] We had a Tomorrow’s Transactions thought leadership day at the International Payments Summit in London thanks to Katie Gywn-Williams and the rest of the terrific team at ICBI. The idea was to look at a lot of different aspects of the fast-evolving world of retail electronic transactions to try and help those in banks responsible for strategy and planning in the field. We ended the day with, I have to say, a super panel session. I asked my good friends the paleofuturist Bernado Batiz-Lazo, the voice of reason Michael Salmony and next-generation banker Brett King to look at where electronic money might take banking, commerce and society over the the medium term.


It’s very difficult to predict even a few years ahead and Michael highlighted the dynamic around technology: we tend to overestimate the timescales for adoption but underestimate the long-term impact. In others, it will take longer than people like me think for electronic money to displace cash, but when it does the impact on society will be far greater than mass redundancies in the ATM business. Once you being to look more than a few years ahead, in fact, the social changes wrought by new technology become hard to imagine. A generation ago, on 3rd April 1988, the Los Angeles Times Magazine pub­lished a 25-year look ahead to 2013. It contained all sorts of bizarre views of life in Los Angeles today, including such unimaginable fantasies as supersonic jet travel and people smoking cigarettes. But it’s a fun read, and in Bernado’s spirit of paleofuturism, I encourage you to read it not to laugh at what they got wrong but to understand why they got it wrong. For example: what’s wrong with this picture?

After parking the van, Alma stops for some cash at the bank-teller machine in the lobby of her building. She punches in her I.D. number and then puts her thumb on the screen. After several tries, the machine finally recognizes her fingerprint and gives her two $20 bills with bar codes that verify the money has been issued to her.

Interesting that they thought biometrics and cash would co-exist in common use. Rather fascinatingly, and so very William Gibson, one of the key elements that is missing from the vision of 2013 is the mobile phone, despite the fact that it had already existed for a decade. The first AMPS (1G) cellular network was launched in the America in 1978. Yet in the vision for 2013…

Bill is trying to locate his wife to tell her about the dinner guests. Unable to reach her either at home or the office

My italics, of course. It’s been at least a decade since my wife called me either at home or at the office or, indeed, anywhere else. If she wants me, she calls me, she doesn’t call a place. The mobile phone didn’t just change the payphone business, it changed the very way that we think about communications. We understand now, of course, that the future of money over the next 25 years, in common with the future of a great many other everyday tools, is about the device formerly known as the mobile phone and what Sam Lessin of Facebook calls the “superpower” of being able to communicate with anyone else anywhere in the world at any time.

But back to Alma. The last time I went to the US — to Austin, Texas, for South-by-Southwest — I didn’t take any US currency with me and I didn’t get any $20 bills out of an ATM while I was there either. I paid for everything using cards and my mobile phone (LevelUp). Yet I read only recently, in a discussion about the near future, that…

There’s some debate about whether plastic credit and debit cards will be totally replaced by mobile payment systems in the next few years. However, there’s no doubt that, in 2030, my son will carry a wallet with cash in it, because we’ll still be using paper and metal money well into the future.

[From 15 Current Technologies We’ll Still Be Using in 2030]

Maybe it will be a class thing? The middle classes will have abandoned cash and it will exist only to serve the poor and excluded. That’s one scenario, but I don’t think so. As I have droned on about interminably, the device formerly known as the mobile phone is a way to accept payments as well as make them, and this is what does for cash. Brett quite rightly made fun of the UK government’s reaction to the suggestion that cheque clearing might be abandoned in a decade or so. “How will I pay my cleaning lady?” was the typical insurmountable hurdle to change erected in the pages of the The Daily Telegraph. This is exactly analgus to those mid-1980s comments about mobile phones, along the lines of “Well if I want to make a phone call when I out, I can always use a payphone”. Just for the record, I pay our cleaner using the Barclays mobile app and FPS, as I imagine do most normal people…

So what will be still using in 2030? When I was listening to the futurologist and Forum friend Richard Watson talking about the problem of forecasting across a generation, he said that one of the central problems is that our brains work in a lazy way. Our brains look for patterns so that they think they understand things (this is why people consistently see patterns in random noise) and made the point that the kind of digital bubbles people are living in lead to a kind of Balkanization of the future. As I’ve said once or twice at the Tomorrow’s Transactions Forum, we have to look out of the corner of our eyes to see how technology is being used in ways that might disrupt existing business models, and that is difficult. So this leads me to ask, just as our friends in 1988 didn’t see that the decade-old technology of mobile phones would be everywhere in 2013, which decade-old technology is going to be everywhere a generation from now, leading not just to disruption in old businesses and the creation of new ones but a fundamental shift in mental models? If I had to guess, I’d say it was 3D Printing, but I’m desperately keen to hear what you think. In fact, I will send a copy of “The Future of Money” (with a foreword by Vince Cable) to the person who posts the most plausible suggestion before the end of the month. 

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


  1. A smartwatch. And biometrics. Neither one is exactly a decade old (Casio and Seiko introduced, respectively, what could be termed as a smartwatch back in 1978 and 1980 – http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/04/smart-watch-seiko-james-bond.html), but still.

    The most common and frequent use of a mobile phone is to… check time. (With smartphones, calling someone is the least popular use case…)

    Ubiquity of identity is one of the key drivers for a smartwatch and biometrics.

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