Wireless Sunday

Off to the Barclaycard Wireless Festival for the day. I don’t really understand why its still called that. In the old days, when it was sponsored by O2, then calling it the wireless festival sort of made sense. But now it’s sponsored by Barclaycard, they should probably call it the Contactless Festival instead. Anyhow it featured a great many very popular bands, as evidenced by the enormous crowd trying to get in.

IMG_0406

I know it looks chaotic but in the end it only took about 25 minutes to get in. Contactless was much in evidence. Barclaycard had kitted all of the bars out with contactless terminals and were kind enough to give me one of the promotional lanyards containing a contactless card (a Visa gift card preloaded with £20) to go and try out. Which, naturally, I did. And, I have to say, it worked perfectly. As testimony, allow me to present the first beer I bought with it!

Dave at Wireless 2011

Being me, I couldn’t leave it at that though, and I started to try out some other contactless paraphernalia about my person. An obvious experiment was to try my Barclaycard phone, and that worked too, but oddly it went online, which rather slowed the transaction down. I don’t understand why it did this, so I’ll ask the chaps when I’m next in the office.

More interestingly, I asked a couple of the bar staff what they thought about contactless and they had both positive and negative observations that I promised myself to report in a spirit of openness and balance…

Positive. It’s quick, and you don’t have to hand the terminal to the customer for them to enter a PIN. And they thought my phone was really cool. They also said that some customers had been paying with their own contactless cards and not just the promotional lanyards.

Negative. There were two big issues that came up in both conversations with bar staff. One was the spending limit, which the bar staff said was too low at £12 (the limit was actually £15, but the all of the drinks cost £4, so you could buy three drinks at £12 but not the advertised four beers in a drinks carrier, because that costs £16). Surely it would have made sense to have subbed the bars so that four beers plus carrier was a £15 special.

Enough of these scientific experiments (most of which I drank), and off to see some of the popular beat combos on show. Here’s 47 second taster so that you can get the idea if you’ve never been to one of these events before.

I was reflecting on the security issue later on, because it really seemed a block. I took the time to explain to one of the women at the bar that there was no risk to her as a customer, because the UK banks’ were unequivocal about unauthorised use: if someone uses your card without your permission, they will refund the transaction. Yet she was unconvinced and was clearly uncomfortable about the idea of “no CVM” purchase. This has been true since the earliest days. As I highlighted four years ago:

Among those that are not yet ready to use contactless, security appear to be the dominant consideration. Which means, of course, that whatever we might think about actual security situation we must get better at communicating it.

[From Digital Money: Contactless update]

As I don’t know anything about customer communications and public information, I genuinely don’t know how to cross this chasm, but I wonder if it’s yet more evidence that we should be moving more quickly to contactless phones. The simple PIN code that I need to open up the mobile wallet on my Barclaycard MasterCard phone (the Samsung Tocco that I wrote about before) might well provide the reassurance that people want, even though it doesn’t really make much difference to the overall risk (phones are inherently safer than cards because people notice when they go missing anyway).

Overall, the weekend’s experiences did leave me with three firm conclusions:

1. Both the public and the merchants liked contactless. In this kind of environment – crowded, quick service – the technology performs very well. These were similar to the results seen elsewhere: the punters like contactless payments.

Festival-goers quizzed on the experience, said they were quicker (96%) and easier to use (98%) than credit or debit cards, while a resounding 100% said they’d want to use the PayPass prepaid wristbands again to pay at other festivals, concerts and sporting events.

[From Finextra: Contactless wristbands join wellies and camping gear as festival essentials]

2. We should accelerate the development of contactless phones, because they help with the security issue.

3. The Horrors are a good band, but not my cup of tea.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

Give cash the heave ho, me hearties

There are some people, in some parts of the world, who still prefer cash over any form of electronic alternative. My mum, for example. But her demands on the Treasury are modest. In other countries, cash has a bigger impact, because local distributed entrepreneurs need it for business-to-business transactions.

Somali pirates are reported to have received a total of $12.3m (£7.6m) in ransom money to release two ships. They are believed to have been paid a record $9.5m (£5.8m) for Samho Dream, a South Korean oil tanker, and nearly $2.8m (£1.7m) for the Golden Blessing, a Singaporean flagged ship. “We are now counting our cash,” a pirate who gave his name as Hussein told Reuters news agency.

[From BBC News – Somali pirates receive record ransom for ships’ release]

I’ll bet they are. And It will take them a while. Once again, these marine miscreants aren’t looking for prepaid mobile phones, gift cards or PayPal accounts: they are after cash, and I’ll lay a pound to a penny that they didn’t want Yuan or Roubles or Kenyan Shillings and an M-PESA account in a false name: they wanted dollars, and in $100 bills. The cash was dropped from a helicopter on to the ship. Wait a minute, you might be tempted to think: how on Earth can people move millions of dollars in cash around when we have stringent KYC/AML/CTF legislation in place! I think I may have found the answer. They are criminals, and therefore don’t care about such restrictions. There’s an amazing story in one of the free newspapers you get on the tube (Metro, 20th June 2011).

Three Britons accused or smuggling more than £2m into Somalia to pay pirate ransoms. They were given sentences of between TEN AND 15 YEARS (my emphasis) and also fined £9,000.

That £9,000 fine must have strung. This is, apparently, the first time that “westerners” have been sentenced for their involvement in ransom payments. Hhhmmm. Interesting. Now what were they smuggling into Somalia again? Was it mobile handsets for illicit m-payments? No. Prepaid cards to be used for nefarious purposes? No. Bitcoin wallets on encrypted USB drives? No. It was cash. Of course it’s quite inconvenient to have to ship huge wads of $100 bills around, so perhaps the pirates had asked for euros instead. It could do with the support at the moment. If the Feds decide to start issuing $500, or $1000, bills anytime soon, the euro would be devastated, since almost half of the euros out there are in the form of €500 notes and if drug dealers, money launderers, kidnappers and corrupt politicians decide to dump them for dollars the demand would collapse (nobody uses them in legitimate transactions).

Malaysian police have arrested a Lebanese man allegedly carrying fake currency with a face value of $66 million after he tipped a hotel staff with a $500 note, an official said Friday. The largest U.S. note currently in wide circulation is a $100 bill. But police found bundles of $1 million, $100,000 and $500 notes in the man’s hotel room in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, said Izany Abdul Ghany, head of the city’s commercial crime unit.

[From $500 Tip Leads Police to $66 Million in Fake Bills – ABC News]

Cash does seem to attract the wrong kind of person. There has to be a better way.

Elizabeth Buse, group president, Visa, responsible for Asia Pacific, Central Europe, Middle East and Africa said that bringing transactions out of cash into electronic forms will allow governments to have better tax compliance and greater monitoring of fraudulent transaction and money laundering.

[From Electronic payments can control black money]

There’s an interesting experiment in this line of thinking underway right now, The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is attempting to restrict the role of the cash in the economy there and push for a more efficient less-cash system.

To be precise, the CBN on April 20 sent a circular to all banks, Cash-in-Transit (CIT) operating firms, payments system service providers, limiting daily cash withdrawals to N150,000 for individuals and N1 million for corporate entities effective June 1, 2012.

[From From cash to cashless economy: How practicable is CBN’s mop up policy?]

There’s been a storm of complaint about this from various elements in Nigerian society. I assume that some of these complaints come from people who are happy with the corruption and tax evasion that cash delivers, but there are also reasoned complaints that the electronic infrastructure is insufficient.

On May 17, the House of Representatives objected to the proposal by the CBN & requested the CBN to suspend the implementation of the policy. They argue that that the country was not prepared for such a change

[From Nigerian Cash Management Reform — Counting On Currency]

I hope the CBN stays the course, and not just because of economic efficiency. Cash discriminates in favour of the tax-evading, corrupt elites at the expense of the powerless and poor: electronic payments should be a cheap, fast and transparent alternative.

The biggest enemy in fighting poverty is physical cash. The fact that people living at the bottom end of the pyramid need to conduct their business with paper notes (and coins) is the main reason why they are often stuck there.

[From Mobile Banking: Nigeria and cash]

But how can an emerging market make the transition from cash to cashless? The answer is, of course, to skip past the slow roll-out of conventional banking and payments infrastructure and use mobiles, not cards, to replace cash. Kenya points the way…

Over 13,000 sugarcane cutters in Mumias Sugar zone will start receiving their pay electronically following a deal between Mumias Sugar Company, Family Bank and mobile phone money transfer service providers. Acting harvesting and transport manager Mr Franklin Maguge said the firm was considering the possibility of extending the programme to cover other casual workers in the next one month… The services will be also extended to cover sugarcane cutters National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) medical scheme monthly remittances to make it easy for them to pay without going through hectic process.

[From 13,000 Sugarcane workers to get paid via phones. « Mobile Money Africa]

This story gets even more interesting, though.

The sugar milling firm in collaboration with Safaricom and Airtel mobile phone services providers and Family bank is also making arrangements to have the cutters provided with mobile phones at a subsidised loan for efficient running of the programme.

[From 13,000 Sugarcane workers to get paid via phones. « Mobile Money Africa]

Providing subsidised loans to the workers who do not have phones presumably saves money compared to paying them in cash. So if some of the workers still insist of getting paid in cash, great ineffeciencies remain for the company. When few enough remain, the company than quite reasonably insist that they are paid by mobile (I can remember my first factory job when I was a teenager, when the company was going through the process of switching the workers from cash to direct deposit – it wasn’t instantaneous, but it was done in the end). Come on mateys, all aboard for lack-of-Treasure Island.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

The Tesco way

At a recent Financial Services Club event, one of the speakers said that it was unlikely that retailers would make changes to their POS systems to adapt to new payment mechanisms, outside of their normal replacement cycles. With one exception. He said they might make the investment in POS if it was for their own payment system. In other words, Tesco won’t change their POS software because some student comes up with a cool way of paying for things with iPhones, but they will change their POS software to launch their own payments service, wallet, device or whatever that reduces costs and increases benefits.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

Future tension

I was pottering around the British Library’s superb exhibition on science fiction and, since it is free, felt it only moral and just to stop off in the gift shop and buy a couple of books. Truth be told, there were a hundred books there I wanted to buy, but I decided to limit myself to two, one of them being a copy of Edwin Abbott’s magnificent Flatland, one of my all-time favourite books, for no.2 son. Browsing on, I was astonished to find a new edition of Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward, 2000-1887” from the Oxford University Press. This is dated 2009, so it didn’t exist when I wrote about the book back in 2006.

I’m always curious about the first reference to the credit card in literature. The oldest I’ve found so far is in a long-forgotten text from 1886 called “Looking Backward, 2000-1887” by one Edward Bellamy. I picked up a 1947 edition from the Amazon marketplace, which suggests it must have been reprinted a few times. Indeed, the dust jacket claims it to be one of the best selling utopian fantasies of all time.

[From Digital Money: 1886 and all that]

In this new version, according to the web site (I haven’t read it yet – will start tonight):

  • The second most successful novel to be published in nineteenth-century America–a book whose thunderous indictment of industrial capitalism and vision of life in a socialist utopia still touches a nerve in the twenty-first century.
  • The introduction offers a highly original reassessment of the novel, exploring the political and psychological peculiarities of this celebrated utopian fiction
  • Uses the second, revised edition text of the novel which made “Looking Backward” a bestseller, and the notes detail significant variations from the first edition.
  • Contains an up-to-date bibliography and chronology of the author’s life

The discovery of this new edition made me think again about just how long it takes to effect change in the conservative world of money. Yet perhaps Bellamy was only a couple of decades out in his predictions of cashlessness, which isn’t bad across a 125-odd span. Public attitudes are changing, even in conservative nations such as our United Kingdom.

Only 31% of people said using notes and coins was their preferred payment method, with 41% saying they would choose to use a card if they could, according to the Payments Council.

[From The Press Association: Consumers ‘choose cards over cash’]

Personally, I would never use notes and coins again if I had the choice, and it looks as if more and more people are coming to the same conclusion.

It found that while 83% of people aged over 55 would use cash when buying something for up to £3, 12% of under-35s would use a debit card.

[From The Press Association: Consumers ‘choose cards over cash’]

I’m certainly over 35, but I fall in the later category. I would always used a card, given the option, although I never use a debit card of course. Why anyone would use a debit card when they could use a credit card (except in the face of surcharging, about which more in a later post) I don’t know. But this leads me to conclude that Bellamy may well have been a more accurate soothsayer than anyone suspects. This is because the “credit card” that he describes in the book is actually a pre-authorised offline prepaid card, and these surely are they key cash replacement product de nos jours. In the Federal Reserve Payments Study last year, prepaid was identified as the fastest growing segment.

The Study found that prepaid cards represented the fastest growing payments segment from 2006 to 2009, with an annual growth rate of transactions at 21.5%. By way of comparison, the number of debit card transactions grew at 14.8% and the number of credit card transactions declined by .2% annually over the same time period.

[From PaymentsJournal – Prepaid Transaction Volume Continues to Grow, Even as the Size of the Transactions Gets Smaller]

I’ve just been exploring some prepaid opportunities with one of our clients, and one of the factors that we were kicking around (not giving any secrets away!) was that prepaid is a way to experiment (provided that not-too-ridiculous KYC/AML/CTF doesn’t derail it) in a way that other products aren’t.

From the consumer side, prepaid allows consumers to test new opportunities and options without risking a lot of money or putting their bank accounts or credit cards on the line.

[From PaymentsJournal – When It Comes to New Payments Technology, Prepaid Will Lead the Way]

This is a good point, but I feel there’s another factor, at least in Europe. You don’t need to be a bank to offer prepaid services: the combination of an Electronic Money Institution Licence (ELMI) and a Payment Institution Licence (PI) means that any company can offer a full service: an open-loop prepaid card. I suspect that many of the companies applying for these licences are doing so because they want to use new technology to deliver new services that need payment, if you see what I mean. That is, they don’t expect to earn money from the payments themselves, but from the value-added services that need the payments to take place (what people are starting to call the “Google Model”). Hence Bellamy’s vision may be realised not from within the payments industry, but from, say, retail or mobile or brand or somewhere else entirely.

I’ve been using the prepaid contactless MasterCard on my Orange phone for a couple of weeks now — mainly in Pret and McDonalds — and I have to say it works pretty well. I’ve very comfortable with the idea of switching to prepaid, because prepaid on the phone isn’t a pain, it’s easy. When the prepaid balance falls below a certain level, you’re asked to enter your PIN and top up. Simple. Thus while it may be initially hard to imagine prepaid cards replacing cash in retail transactions, the more I use my prepaid “card” in retail transactions, the easier it becomes.

Naturally, I obtained a spare copy of the new edition of “Looking Backward” and I have it on my desk beside me as I type. I will cheerfully dispatch it post-haste to the first person to respond to this post with the name of the first-person narrator of the story in question. In the traditional fashion, this competition is open to all except for employees of Consult Hyperion and members of my immediate family, is void where prohibited and is not connected in any way with the London Olympics 2012. The prize must be claimed within three months. Oh, and no-one can win more than one of the Digital Money Blog prizes per calendar year.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

Viva El Presidente!

[Dave Birch] I just saw an American in a bit of a pickle at Holborn Tube. He was trying to buy a ticket, but the machines won’t take non-chip cards, so he was stuck. His US American Express card was useless. Fortunately he was my brother-in-law, so I bought his ticket with my splendid Barclaycard OnePulse card. This is happening to Americans all the time, and since it happens to the banks’ best customers, they are beginning to respond.

I was pleased to see in the news recently that Chase and Wells Fargo announced the issuance of EMV chip-enabled cards for several of their credit card portfolios.

[From Portals and Rails]

I notice that at many of the US international airports I’ve been to recently (on a sample of three) you can buy prepaid Sterling and Euro pre-paid chip and PIN cards from the Travelex booths as well. Chase and Wells aren’t the first US EMV issuers.

State Employees’ Credit Union (Secu) is set to be one of the first financial institutions in the US to roll out chip and PIN debit cards to its customers. The non-profit cooperative has enlisted French vendor Oberthur Technologies to help migrate its 1.6 million debit card holders to EMV between March and the end of the year.

[From Finextra: State Employees’ Credit Union makes EMV move]

The pressure for US migration is growing. As Jamie Henry of Walmart mentioned in his recent Tomorrow’s Transactions podcast, many retailers are asking the banks to go ahead with migration because they think it will reduce their costs dealing with fraud and PCI-DSS. Perhaps the pressure is reaching a critical point of some kind.

Don Rhodes, senior director of risk management policy for the American Bankers Association, says a number of emerging technologies, such as the EMV chip standard, mobile payments and peer-to-peer or person-to-person payments, will soon change the way U.S. financial institutions and merchants connect and transact. And it could all happen in 2011, much sooner than most industry experts expect.

[From EMV, Mobile and the Payments Landscape]

The kind of things that have been going on with Google and Square and Isis would serve, I think, to reinforce that the trend is accelerating. The fact that some of the trailblazers (eg, Bling Nation) have found it heavy going doesn’t mean anything about the overall trend (the weather isn’t the climate, as they say). I saw in a Mercator Advisory Group press release that they are saying that

Merchants are advised to “spend the $10” for EMV capable terminals now in anticipation of an eventual EMV roll-out.

[From EMV in the USA: Waiting on Debit, a Mandate, or Just the Opportune Moment]

They were anticipating an early 2011 start for the EMV roll-out, which is exactly what appears to have happened, albeit still on a limited scale. Elsewhere, the chip and PIN bandwagon rolls on inexorably.

Due to an increasing number of transaction fraud worldwide, more and more countries are shifting from the stripe card standard to the EMV standard, which substantially enhances transaction security and operation efficiency. Now some major Chinese commercial banks are to join the trend, planning to issue their chip band cards by the middle of the year.

[From Banks in China to Launch Chip Cards]

Perhaps in the Americas it will take political leadership to enable to the final push towards EMV, a President with real vision and a commitment to the well-being of his nation.

President Chavez has mandated that the country move to EMV chip cards later this year which should stop this type of fraud

[From Chavez figures out how to stop cross border fraud]

Well, if only President Obama shared the wisdom, vision and economic genius of the noted revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez! So Viva El Presidente and down with the reactionary and counter-revolutionary Yankee magnetic stripe hegemony imposed by the running dog lackeys of imperialist aggression.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

Contactless Christmas

[Dave Birch] Hhhmmm. Only a couple more shopping days left until Xmas, time for a real man to start thinking about presents. What would make a good present for a Digital Money Denizen this year?

The disgruntled commuter, the perpetual pessimist, the misanthrope, the ironist [which covers a large percentage of the people we know!]: Whether you find in your daily commute something soul-sucking or rather darkly comedic, Bad Oyster knows that public transit ain’t all a pleasure cruise. Its Sardines, Roulette and Mind the Gap (‘between your expectations and the service provided’) wallets (£2.99) are like a miniature dose of defensive humour for your harried journey.

[From Londonist: Santa’s Lap: Designer Oyster Card Holders]

Not bad. But these are about accessorising (is that the word? My spell check is unconvinced) the payment instrument rather than the payment instrument itself. Meanwhile, over in Hong Kong, they’re showing what can be done with a bit of imagination.

This premium and stylish Octopus series offers four adorable animal designs for customers to choose from, each gorgeously adorned with colourful crystals. Each Octopus Ornament also comes with a beautiful charm and chain which can be easily attached to a handbag, mobile phone or MP3 player, or worn on the wrist as an accessory, adding a touch of dazzling glamour! Each Octopus Ornament design is beautifully packed in an exquisite gift box, making it a perfect treat for family and loved ones.

Combining sparkling glamour and payment convenience, Octopus Ornaments are for sale at only HK$328 each (not including any deposit or initial stored value) at 7-Eleven outlets in Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok and Sha Tin starting tomorrow (4 December 2008). Only a limited quantity is available.

Like all Octopus products, Octopus Ornaments can be used on public transport and at more than 5,000 retail outlets across Hong Kong.

[From Octopus Holdings Limited – Press Releases]

I still have the same boring old Oyster card I bought years ago, although I rarely use it anymore because of my splendid Barclays OnePulse card. It sits at the bottom of my rucksack, only used to help friends or family members who have forgotten theirs. But if I could get a Hello Kitty Oyster tag for my bag, I would. In fact, I’d probably get several, so that I could pay in the most appropriately fashionable way.

Drastic for plastic

[Dave Birch] At the recent Digital Money Summit in London, Tomi Ahonen noted that more people on Earth send text messages that use the Internet and that there are 3.4 billion mobile phones in use worldwide (of which three billion are unique subscribers). To illustrate the critical role of mobile phones in the future of payments, he used the example of South Korea to light up the trajectory of payment cards. There, half of the population already use mobile payments of one form or another

Incidentally, he also mentioned that 43% of the population there have a Cyworld account. I’ve written about Cyworld and it’s Acorn currency before, but this reinforced the view that we should not see virtual worlds such as Cyworld as games. They are not games — from the payments perspective — they are transaction spaces. Cyworld, by the way, is now the world’s second biggest music store after iTunes.

In South Korea, gift cards for the virtual currency used in Cyworld, known as dotori (“acorns”), are sold in more than 10,000 retail outlets as well as online and via mobile phones. Players use the currency to buy avatars and media to decorate their virtual space. Since one dotori costs approximately 10 cents, this market is obviously limited. Indeed, it amounts to only about $200,000. Per day.

[From Dave Birch: | Technology | The Guardian]

Tomi’s main point, though, and a point that has stuck with me since, is that we (ie, payments people) should not be taking existing instruments such as credit cards and simulating them on mobile phones, we should be creating “something that is magic” because great mobile services — whether Shazam, one of my favourites, or the cameraphones that convert English text to Japanese — look like magic to the consumer. Yes! Another manifesto commitment for digital money!


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