Thursday, 12 April 2018

Going cashless

Whoops. Somehow this post got published when only half-written. It's complete now, but you may need to read it again!

Ah...that went all right. Rather well, in fact.

I thought it ought to, but you never know. And I didn't want to faff around, wasting time, getting embarrassed, getting flustered, and then in the end having to abandon the process and try another way to do it.

But no, the thing went smoothly. And very soon afterwards I got the expected transaction details on the phone screen, as a notification; and then in the app itself, under 'Recent Transactions'. To be viewed whenever convenient. I referred to them once home again, so that I could update Money Diary, my self-designed spreadsheet that records all cash, bank, and credit card transactions and shows me my precise financial position for the rest of the Pension Month.

All done without paper. And all without actually having to physically show my credit card, nor reveal its number. Nor (so far) without having to key in my PIN, with the risk that someone watching over my shoulder might see where my fingers go.

I'd just paid for a cut and blow-dry at Oliver Cunningham, the salon I go to in Cuckfield. I was trying out Google Pay for the very first time. This is the payment app for mobile phones created by Google. I had installed it on Tigerlily only the previous evening. Now I knew that it worked as advertised. A major step, then, along my personal road to a Cashless World.

Mind you, that visit to Oliver Cunningham's wasn't entirely cashless. I did slip a discreet fiver to Morgan as a personal tip - so cash still has that specialised role to play! But the main transaction was paid for simply by holding the phone very close to the salon's payment keypad and waiting for a tick to appear on Tigerlily's screen.

Gosh, it was almost instant. In fact so quick that it took me by surprise. Wow! That was very cool.

After Oliver Cunningham I went off to Jeremy's Two, an out-of-town roadside fruit/veg-cum-butchers shop south of Cowfold, and repeated my Google Pay trick. Once again the transaction was near-instant. Google's message about the money paid came through very soon afterwards, while I was still parked outside (I've redacted the card number):

That's only a temporary message. It replaced the first, about the Oliver Cunningham transaction, and will be replaced in turn by the next Google Play transaction. But the app itself lists all 'recent transactions', and slightly briefer details of each of my first two payments were there (and indeed on the credit card website also):

I imagine that several transactions will get shown before they begin to slip off-screen and into oblivion. But well before then, I'll have popped them into my spreadsheet, recorded for all time, to be read by aliens (or the descendants of mankind) eons hence.

Henceforth I may be able to leave my purse hidden in my bag, unless I need to get out some ID, or a loyalty card. I see that Google Pay lets you register these. Do Google mean my Boots and Waitrose cards? I'd better look into it. But it does look as if the phone is all I will now need, for most payment situations.

There were of course a couple of preliminary things I had to attend to, so that this electronic magic was possible.

Google Pay had to be set up with a default payment card. But that was as simple as confirming that the card they already knew about - the one used on Google Play - was my choice for Google Pay too.

And then I had to configure the phone settings to make the NFC (Near Field Communication) on/off screen button easily available. I didn't want NFC on all of the time - only when I knew that I would be making a payment shortly. Turning NFC on - and then off again afterwards - had to be quick and slick. But really it was no problem at all to get this set up.

So there I was: with the minimum of fuss, Google Pay enabled, and ready to go.

But why? Why now? And why use the phone? After all, cash isn't a dead duck yet.

A number of things had come together over the last year or so:

# It was becoming ever more socially acceptable to pay for practically anything with a credit card, partly because prices had risen and the number of very small transactions seemed fewer. I'd been startled to see people paying for ordinary drinks at a pub bar in New Zealand in 2007, eleven years ago. It wasn't a strange thing now.
# The closure of bank branches had made life for traders and retailers more difficult. They had further to go, in order to physically bank their cash takings. And travelling with cash was always a risky procedure for the staff doing it. I felt they now preferred card payment, even if they hadn't in the past.
# It seemed to me that a lot of coin-operated machines were going to wear out in the next couple of years. I was already paying for half of my car parking by phone, as roadside meters disappeared. It might soon become normal to make electronic payment (via mobile internet, or NFC) for many things. A good thing, in busy situations where transaction time mattered: supermarket checkouts, road bridge tolls, train tickets, toilets...
# Cash dispensers were likely to get fewer, as LINK made them less profitable for providers. Or an exorbitant charge would be made, that I for one wouldn't be willing to pay. One way around this was to draw cash less frequently, and use less of it, so each withdrawal lasted longer.
# I didn't like the bad-hygiene aspects of cash - grubby-looking bank notes touched by who knows how many unclean hands...and coins even worse.
# Old age was not far off. I didn't want it to fossilise my attitudes. I didn't want to be thought fuddy-duddy. I needed to be modern and up-to-date and adaptable, and not get stuck in an old-fashioned cash-only world, with an old-fashioned cash-only mindset.
# Keeping faith with cash might end up implying dishonesty, or at least a dark motive for paying in an untraceable way, such as tax evasion. Not for me.
# My purse - bought back in 2009 - was getting tatty and needed replacement: indeed the zip on the coin section had already failed. The new purse would be posh and stylish (naturally) but if its main contents were not to be notes and coin, it could also be small and exquisite.
# I hadn't forgotten the occasion in Brighton some years back when a wad of notes fell out of my purse one dark evening, and was snatched away by the wind. I had a torch in my bag, but I didn't find all of them. An important £40 stayed missing.
# I was regularly taking unwanted small-denomination coins to the Burgess Hill library. Everything below 20p in fact. Coins were in fact a perennial nuisance: not worth much, heavy to carry if you had enough of them to be useful, and when fumbling in the car liable to slip away into inaccessible nooks and crannies. I wasn't sentimental about British decimal coinage. I remembered with affection the old pre-decimal coins, the coins we used up to February 1971. Now they had character. The ones churned out since then were mere tokens, uninspiring bits of metal, and I resented having to deal with them.
# Banknotes were a little more interesting, and much more practical. But necessarily a high-quality product that must cost zillions to manufacture and replace when too worn or torn.
# I wanted to go ever more paperless. Electronic, contactless payment offered the chance to forego hoarding paper receipts that were only thrown away once checked against bank and credit card statements.
# In any case, retailers were starting not to offer a receipt automatically. You had to confirm you wanted one, or even expressly request one. The time would come when their payment machines wouldn't have a roll of paper inside for printing out a receipt.

But I had several reservations to overcome, before moving over (almost completely) to various electronic forms of payment.

1. A very, very easy payment procedure might encourage unthinking or reckless expenditure.
2. I'd definitely need to keep track of what I was spending - but would there be a receipt?
3. Contactless payments would lead to PINs slipping from my memory.
4. What if the payment card used were lost, damaged or stolen?
5. If using a mobile phone, what if that were lost, damaged, or stolen? Or ran out of charge?

Being disciplined about maintaining a series of financial spreadsheets, and constantly updating them, was my answer to impulse spending. I was always able to decide whether something was really affordable. This worked, if I were prepared to be rational and sensible.  (All the time, of course)

As for receipts, I was cheered to learn that Google Pay would send a near-instant electronic message to the phone after each transaction, saying what had just been spent and where. (So I'd know, and wouldn't overlook spending the money. And the lack of a paper receipt wouldn't matter)

There was nothing to be done about forgetting PINs except to note them down in a password-protected encrypted space for occasional retrieval.

I reasoned that it was easier to mislay a card than a phone, and so the best strategy here was to use a phone for payment, and keep the card in reserve, safely hidden. I keep my phone with me 24/7, and if using it in public I loop the lanyard around my wrist, so that we do not part company by accident nor through somebody snatching it. I'm obsessive about battery charge too.

So my reservations have dissolved. Suddenly my spreadsheet shows 'Google Pay' in the 'type of payment' column. Should I make 12th April 2018 an historically-important date to remember annually, as the day I went cashless (almost)?

I've now set up my Boots and Waitrose cards on Google Pay, so that when I present my phone at payment time the appropriate store card should kick in and award me points or whatever. Well, should do! We'll see.

Further sequel on 14th April
I shopped in both Boots and Waitrose today, and each time paid using Google Pay on the phone. Neither my Boots Advantage card nor my My Waitrose card got updated with these transactions. So it can't all be done by using the phone. Next time I'll have to present these cards before paying, which means getting out my purse after all. Sigh.

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