Sitting in the ballroom, watching this whip smart Irish guy Collison. “EMV will be irrelevant in 3-5 years; NFC can do everything it does” said his guru. So when I was saying tokenisation is bigger than chip and PIN, no-one cared. But now this guru says it, it’s the news. Life. Anyway, Collison nodded and started talking. He said that the blockchain people don’t spend enough time thinking about problems that businesses actually have.
I’m sitting there watching and thinking that the kid’s a bona fide genius. Don’t see so many of them, so I’m enjoying watching him. He hasn’t just kissed the Blarney Stone, he’s fathered it’s quintuplets. I was fixed. Fascinated. Most impressive person I saw up on stage the whole week. Year, maybe.
I went back to thinking or saying that that whole NFC vs QR thing is a red herring.
“Are you sure it’s not the elephant in the room”, said the guy sitting next to me. “No,” I said. “That’s Ganesha. He’s helping me with my writing”. I don’t know how he feels about herrings of any colour.
I couldn’t see much of the savage heart of the American payments system in the ballroom so I set off to see if I could find NFC replacing EMV. I jumped into a cab and off we went. As the cab pulled up down by the Golden Gate I fired up my Apple wallet and there it was RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME: NFC not EMV. “Cash or credit” the screen in front of me asked. I mentally reinterpreted the terse instruction as cash or physical payment cards issued by international schemes or their members and including prepaid, debit, credit and charge cards, other via magnetic stripe or RFID interface, or virtual versions thereof accessible via an NFC interface in a smart device.
I didn’t choose cash.
When the terminal lit up I tapped my iPhone against it and go out to leave. “No, man” the driver said, pointing at the terminal, “you gotta sign”. Oh right. “You might have told me that the terminal does not support a correctly implemented CDCVM cardholder authentication method” I might have said, or thought. I imagine it’s because the terminal doesn’t support EMV transactions, only contactless magnetic stripe. Long way to go. I was sufficiently concerned to place an emergency call to my own guru, Brian Rommele. I told him I dreamt about the elephant in the room and the red herring. “What does it mean?” I asked him. “I need a quick diagnosis and a chemical prognosis”.
He mediated for moment and then said “The user experience is a train wreck. But don’t worry about. Mobile phones will route around the damage”.
Also I might have said, or thought, that using EMV is a good idea, because of standards like that, and whether you are using it via NFC, BLE, IP or ISO7816 doesnt really matter.
I took the little stylus and wrote “Sergio Lionel Kun Aguero del Castillo” on the screen. “No, no” the driver told me. “It’s over $25 so you have got to sign here” and he handed me a piece of paper and a pen. So I wrote “What. A. Waste. Of. Time. And. Money” on the paper and set off to find my date. I thought the best way to attract a woman in Las Vegas would be to wave money around in a peacock-like display. So I made with a Benjamin and headed towards the brightest lights I could see. Unfortunately, I’d already had my first gin and tonic so things were starting to look a little blurred.
Well that didn’t work. Howard said we should go to the casino and drop some serious money. I told him that as his Director of Innovation, I recommended blackjack. So off we went. We found a couple of seats next to Bill and Ted and watched them drop $500 in like ten minutes. “Oh man, oh man”, Bill told me. “my gut feeling is telling me that this is not going to be my night.”
“You know what else is telling you that” I told him, “the laws of probability. You just hit a 13 against the dealer showing the five of spades. What did you think would happen?”.
He was teaching Ted how to lose some more money when I started to hit it big. Before I knew it, I was $20 up. I gave $10 to the dealer gal and $10 to the drinks gal and walked out into the morning light. “Fancy a drink”, I heard a SIM Siren call, and I turned around and went straight back in.
Time to get some more money. The preferred system was the familiar stripe, PIN and thumbprint system. Tried and tested. We grabbed the cash and went back to the tables. She has been up for 24 hours straight, and that sounds fun but I crack after 23 hours. I tell her we have to go, but she’s having fun, Howard’s having fun, Jake’s having fun. Bill and Ted have left.
“Please” I tell her. I explain to her that the hallucinations are getting worse. I’m seeing crazy things. Hearing them too. “You gotta fight, for your right, to paaaaaartttttaaaeeeee” sings the guy on stage. People are flying over my head. “It’s over”, I tell them. I just can’t do it. Twenty three straight hours is my limit. I’m not a young man any more.
I woke up and went to look for Bailey. I called her cellphone. “Have I got a story for you!” I yelled over the casino din. She was in Henderson, giving a talk about how you should follow your passion and act on it. “Follow your passion”, she said, “and act on it”.
OK, I told her, I’m going down to the Strip.
“That’s good” she said, “What are you going to do?”
I told her that I was going to see if there was any variation on chip authentication times between different acquirers using the VX520s.
“Stay there” she said, “I’m making an intervention”.
The Manatee was in front of the hotel in half an hour. I got in and settled back in the seat. I thought the engine was talking to me. It was saying “get processing options” over and over again.
I’m crashing. The lights of the oncoming cars have become hypnotic and dissociated from their mundane roots. My eyes just won’t open. I think she is telling me that she wants money to go tripping. I’m telling her about the fight between the Red Herring and the Elephant in the Room. “You’ve got to help me,” I pleaded. “Get me to a Denny’s, and quick. I mean, emergency quick.”
The breakfast physician triaged us into a booth. I kept my head down. My plan was to order crystal meth but I ordered a pot roast instead. When Jesse Pinkman’s crazed uncle delivered it, I ate it as if it were nectar. She had the chicken fried steak and we climbed back in the Great Grey Manatee to head out of town. First we need some gas…
With The Money 2020 fading behind us we finally came to the savage heart of the American payment system. The gas pump has a card swipe so I use my AMEX card, which has chip that the pump doesn’t use and a contactless interface the pump doesn’t use. The pump asks me for a ZIP Code, but it’s a British AMEX card so it doesn’t have one. The only ZIP Code I can think of is 90210 so that’s what I punch in but the pump says that it’s invalid and so the transaction is cancelled but not before a message pops up on my iPhone telling me that I just paid $99 for gas. So I go in and tell the cashier but I don’t think he speaks English, or at least the Queen’s English, and appears baffled by my genuflections and pantomime EMV dip. It’s clear he has no idea what chip and PIN, chip and signature, contactless, in-app, Chase Pay or NFC is. I take out my Simple card.
“How much gas do you want?” He asks me. I have no idea.
I look over at Bailey standing by the Great Grey Manatee and I guess “$30?”
So that’s what he rings up. I swiped the Simple card in about a tenth of a second and the POS asks me for my PIN. I punch it in and walk back outside. Bailey hangs up a call and we climb in and move off. “By the way,” she says as I fiddle with the seatbelt, “it’s tan”.
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the coffee began to wear off. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded”, but then I always do after The Money 2020.
See you next year.