[Dave Birch] My wife was very suspicious about my time in Vegas. I told her that nothing unsavoury had occurred, but unfortunately she had the proof. CSI:Woking had spotted that some undershirts in my suitcase had been packed neatly. Damn! She knows I never put away undershirts properly, so I was caught with my pants folded, so to speak. Cornered, I had to tell her the truth…

I love the Peter Rauhoffer “Doomsday” remix of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood 80s classic, “Relax”. It’s a track that genuinely benefits from the longer version, allowing the textures of the •music to evoke and to interweave to form a richer version than the original. Yet the nostalgia that I have for the original remains, refracted and enhanced through the remix. Perfect for a walk across the Aria concourse, into the guest elevators and up to the room.

Pulling on my Marks & Spencers cords, which I think still look good although they are last year’s sage green, I take the elevator down to the casino level. I’m not sure which way to turn, so I just stand there, people watching for a few minutes. A very attractive young lady walks up to me wearing a pair of Gap shorts. I think she must have recognised me from my Money2020 water bottle.

“Hey,” she says, “are looking for some company?”

Yeah, I tell her, I’m looking for Dwolla.

“Me too” she says, and suggests that we go up to my room and I give her five of the new Benjamins. I wasn’t sure if she misheard me because of the loud music or my accent.

I’m outraged by her suggestion, I tell her. Her proposition is disgusting and I reject it utterly. I find the $100 bill morally questionable will simply will not use it. But I am interested in her tender choices. “Have you tried Square?”, I ask her.

“No,” she tells me, and then goes on to say “and if you suggest PayPal, I’ll call the cops myself”.

I’m curious. So I ask her “Is this because of chargebacks?” (which is what I suspected) “or is there some other reason?”.

She ignores me. So I ask her whether future tokenised ACH-based solutions might be interesting to her because of the limited chargeback rights, but she tells me that she has suddenly remembered she has an important meeting. She presses a card into my hand and leaves. I can’t be bothered to read it so I slip it into my pocket.

You’ve got to take your hat off to the Money2020 folk. Out of nothing, they have created a star in the firmament of payments conferences. If you are in our industry, can’t not go. Everyone is there, and while is it undeniably exhausting to fit a year’s worth of meetings into a week, there is an efficiency to it that means the Consult Hyperion crowd will be there again next year.  I finish the meetings of the day and get ready for my session. I think that as there are a lot of bankers present I need to think carefully about my clothes. I think that a suit will hit the right note and luckily I’ve brought a dark grey one that will work. I picked it up a few years ago a little place in Manhattan called Men’s Wearhouse. I haven’t told the other guys about this place because I sort of want to keep it as my secret. If they find it they find it. I think the grey looks good with my white Thomas Pink shirt and my blue Manchester City tie.

After the session I decide that glass of champagne is in order so I head over to the exhibition hall where, as you might imagine, there are girls suspended from the ceiling pouring glasses of champagne as you walk underneath them. I don’t always feel like champagne, generally preferring a gin and tonic at this time of day, but I’ve seen some pretty positive tweeting about my session (it’s not every day that you are labelled the Obi-Wan Kenobi of moderators) so champagne seems appropriate even though it’s not what I really feel like. Conflicted.

Champagne

Once the alcohol starts to work, I can feel my anger started to burn. I thought I’d made the funniest joke in the entire history of payments conferences. One of the keynote speakers, who had presumably never seen the movie, said that Money 2020 was like Woodstock for payments experts and then went on to announce that his bank was about to launch an NFC product. So I said that he must’ve taken the bad acid. This is a joke that is hilariously funny on several levels. To see why you have to be familiar with the soundtrack of the 60s counterculture gathering. Rather famously, at one point in the soundtrack the stadium announcer warns people against taking the wrong type of acid (this is slang for the noted hallucinogenic lysergic acid diethelamide). Given all of the negative comments about NFC during the last couple of days, my joke was drawing a parallel between the hallucinogenic nature of our acid experience and the location of NFC in a bank strategy. I’m still laughing now thinking about it.

But goddam that Ron Shevlin. He pointed out that the soundtrack soundbite is actually a warning against taking the “brown acid” not the “bad acid”. Goddam that Ron Shevlin. Next time I see him, I’m going to have a nail gun and plenty of polythene sheeting in the trunk.

The best keynote was from Dan Schulman at American Express. He was dressed pretty casually, a carefully-assembled dress down Friday set, and I felt I echoed his outfit perfectly in my sage-green Marks & Spencer’s cords. He talked about financial services for the unbanked, which I will blog about at length shortly, and hit just the right tone. He’s talking about a big win-win.

I love JJ Cale. In fact I’d forgotten how much I love JJ Cale. When I was at college, I used to listen to JJ Cale all the time. “Have you heard the news, it’s same old blues again”. It’s country rock, I suppose, but more than the sum of the parts. When he died, they played a wonderful live version of “After Midnight” that I’d never heard before. Played it on Paul Jones show. So I googled around and found it, went over to Amazon and ordered the CD, but thanks to the brilliant Amazon download service I was able to load the tracks into my iTunes before the CD arrived. Great album, with an especially fun version of “Mama Don’t Like”.

Most fun technology play? That was definitely Loop with their induced magnetic field stripe simulator. Who knows whether it will work out. I was talking with some of the guys over coffee and there was a definite sense that using phones to simulate cards is not the long term trajectory, which is using phones to get rid of cards. At the end of the day though there were two technology threads that I thought would be most immediately relevant to our clients. One is tokenization, the other is “new POS” as you might call it. Tablets and APIs to deliver niche POS services. Companies like Leaf, for example. And the First Data Clover play in that space is sure to be significant. When I was Down Under last year I saw Commonwealth Bank demonstrate something similar and thinking that an app store for POS would lead to some innovation, part of the process of replacing special-purpose devices with general-purpose devices plus special-purpose software.

I wanted a relaxed look for dinner, so I went with the Marks & Spencer’s cords (I think Sage Green is a good look for dinner in such a dark restaurant) and went down. The guys were already at the table. We have a beer. I move around until I’m sitting next to the most attractive woman at the table. It takes negotiation because she is the only woman at the table. Sitting quietly, trying to think of something to say to her. The conversation wanders around until, suddenly, she transfixes me. Wow. She knows everything about the early history of Diner’s Club and how it lost out to American Express because of their heavy investments in technology. She knocks me out with the best piece of payments-related film trivia I’ve ever heard. In the 1963 Danny Kaye caper “The Man from Diner’s Club“, Danny is shown clowning around in front of the Diner’s Club computer, which looks exactly as you would imagine a computer might look in a film from 1963. But Diner’s Club didn’t have a computer, this was invented for the film. Wow again. What a woman. I ask her to go downtown with me, but she says she had a long day is off to bed. I wonder she thought it was a euphemism?

The defining album of psychedelic space rock, and one of the top ten best live albums of all time, is Hawkwind’s “Space Ritual – Alive in Liverpool and London” (1972). I walked through the casino with “Earth calling… this is Earth calling…” rebounding through my head like echoes in a crystal cave. The key changes in the remastered version of “Orgone Accumulator” are visceral. You can feel them reverberate through your body. It must be what the steady throb of life-support machinery in an interstellar spacecraft feels like.

I meet up with the guys and we decide to hit the tables. I want a more casual look, so I decide to go with the Marks & Spencer’s cord and my favourite Ralph Lauren shirt. We jump in a cab and head down to the Golden Nugget. I notice that none of them are dressed as stylishly as me, especially with my Boots light-tint glasses that I think round off the look perfectly. Downtown, I pay for the taxi ride using my watch, as I imagine most normal people would do in the circumstances.

Would you believe it! We end up at the Golden Gate, where it looks as if the gogo dancers are celebrating my good fortune. I’m $50 up from an evening of craps (which I was taught to play by American colleagues Lanny Byers and Howard Hall and ended up loving) and blackjack. I had the good fortune to find myself at the tables between a raven-haired beauty and a knockout blonde. Before you say anything there’s no hypocrisy here. We weren’t gambling with cash, but with casino chips. These are a kind of special-use currency (they would be exempted under the provision of the Payment Service Directive under the limited redemption exception) that you can only use in the specific casino that issued them. Like all currencies, they are a target for forgers. They looked pretty easy to counterfeit to me. Not especially secure at all, not like nuclear missile launch codes or something, which is why a dude in a hat keeps coming round at counting them while the cuties deal the cards.

The blonde seemed to know a fair bit about payments. She was a Brit, so she knew what a real-time payment system looked like. I’m glad I’ve run into her, because her bright white top looks great against my favourite Ralph Lauren shirt,  and because the Brit presentation about Zapp, the new bank-centric ACH solution for retail was one of the best panels I’d attended. I ask whether, in retrospect, it might have been better for the Brits to have gone with an ISO 20022 XML-based standard so that the payment system could carry additional remittance information. She becomes inexplicably drowsy and so she has to leave. It must be jet lag, I guess. I turn back to my left but she is gone too. I see her playing craps with the guy who won $5000 in gold in the SecureKey draw at the exhibition. Gold. Huh.

Walking back into my room at 4am I remember the card in my pocket, and I take it out. It says “call XXX-XXX-XXXX and we’ll have a girl in your hotel room in 20 minutes”. So I call and give my room number, and they say the girl is on her way. I tell them that she needs to bring a Coke and some potato chips. When the girl arrives, she’s tells me she’ll do whatever I want, so I give her some Tide hand wash and send her into the bathroom with my undershirts and pants while I settle down to enjoy my refreshing beverage and overcome my night starvation. She dries off my smalls with the hairdryer and folds them neatly into my suitcase. It’s Las Vegas people. It’s cheaper to get a hooker than to use the hotel minibar or laundry service. Anyway, getting that girl was was the fatal error. I should have put the smalls back in the suitcase myself, then I’d have got away with it.

Heading out to the airport I put Serena Ryder’s “Stompa” on a loop. It’s a lovely confection, stirring together what sounds to me like a little bit of country (although other people say that they can’t hear this), a little bit of dance and a little bit of rock to make a delicious new flavour. Something you can’t stop eating, like the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream that we were given at Money2020 last year.

I’m going home via New York. A detour out of the City to see a special lady in Brooklyn. I decide to go with sage green Marks & Spencer’s cords, and I pull on my favourite Ralph Lauren shirt to go with it. The shirt is old and the collar is torn. The shirt was old when I got it from the thrift shop. Well, truthfully, my sister-in-law got it from the thrift shop for me. Long story that involves Bill Gates, but that’s for another time. The shirt has just the right weight and cut for me. It’s comfortable and stylish, but it’s finished. I have a spot in the garden for it when I get home. I pull on my Eddie Bauer rain jacket (it’s raining) and complete the look with a pair of Boots light-tint prescription glasses. I take the F-train to a little spot she tells me about. I walk in and immediately notice that there’s an iPad with a Square stand where a POS terminal should be.

Coffee-Shop POS

I ask the girl behind the counter about her POS choice. She tells me that they used to use the audio jack reader but it was unreliable. She loves the new arrangement and is very happy with it. I ask her about cardless choices and she tells me that people do occasionally pay with the iPhone app and she finds it convenient when they do. Nice. She swipes my Simple and I entirely pointlessly sign for the transaction. I spend a few minutes explaining my anti-fraud strategy to her (amazingly she’d never heard of Sergio Aquero, two-goal hero of Manchester City’s 3-1 triumph over Everton last weekend) and showed her my watch. I think she wanted to learn more, but she told me that she’d just heard that her grandmother was sick and she had to leave right away. Oh well.

Signed and Sealed

When I get back in to the City, I meet up with a couple of old friends and we go for a coffee down by Union Square. We stroll in to the coffee shop.

“Check that out”, I whisper as we stand in the line. I gesture at the window, trying not to draw too much attention to myself.

“What?” says my colleague, staring through, not at, the decals in the window.

“Come on, ” I urge them, “really look”. But they don’t get it, so I have to go and show them. The coffee shop has LevelUp and PayPal logos in the window. I have no choice but to try both of them, so I get in line and order a coffee and pay using PayPal Here.

Dave Birch & Graffiti-0274

Then I get in line and go round again and pay with LevelUp. Both of them work perfectly. The dynamic is good, because I have time standing in the line to run the relevant app and then the transaction itself is super quick. And in both cases I get the receipt e-mailed to me, which I love, because I hate standing there waiting for a printer to churn out a paper receipt (is this regulation “E” or regulation “Z”?) that I have no interest in and immediately throw away. I ask the girl behind the counter about her preferred options and she says that she likes LevelUp, but she doesn’t say why. Maybe not everyone has as distinctive a cartoon caricature in their PayPal wallet.

Dave Birch & Graffiti-0285

A psycho is a person with a mental disorder that makes them prone to behaviour that normal people would regard as abnormal, but that the subject regards as completely normal. A paycho is a person with a mental disorder that makes them prone to believe that normal people think that electronic payments are fascinating, absorbing and central to their lives. For most of the year, I’m just a regular paycho. But for one week every year, I’m an American Paycho.

(With sincere apologies to Brett Easton Ellis.)

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

2 comments

  1. David i genuinely chuckled out loud at the hooker washing your smalls gag. the folks on the Walton to waterloo were outraged. Great blog.

  2. Seriously… there is no doubt that you win the creative writing award in payments for 2013! Aw heck… for the decade. Not a lot of competition of course but still…

    Thanks for keeping it entertaining!

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