Whenever I used to hear the term “cashless society,” I thought it belonged in one of those far into the future Orwellian-like science-fiction novels. I knew, of course, that we were relying less and less on cash, but the thought of no money to hold in your hand just didn’t make sense. We’re a still a ways from going completely cashless, but the times they are a changing, and the idea doesn’t seem so far off anymore.
A survey just done by Rasmussen Reports found that 43% of American adults have gone a full week without using cash to pay for anything. I don’t think it will take long for that number to reach 50% – and ultimately much higher – as technology and finance are coming together to change the way we pay for things. That’s certainly true in the U.S., but we’re a little further along the path, so the change is even more dramatic in other parts of the world.
We just don’t need cash like we used to. In most cases, all a merchant has to do is swipe the card through a machine, and the transaction takes place electronically. Or we order something online and just type in our card number. Even things like parking meters and taxi cabs, which used to cash only, are moving toward electronic payment.
It’s a plastic world that is fast becoming a mobile world as the number of smartphones in use continues to explode and new technological capabilities are added. From established heavyweights to young start-ups, the competition is fierce as companies try to get an early lead in this game-changing trend of mobile commerce. After all, they know it’s about more than just processing a transaction; it’s a whole new way to reach consumers with targeted marketing, coupons, sales, promotions, and so on.
The Race Is On
One of the technologies you may have heard about is called NFC, which is short for “near field communication.” It basically allows you to swipe your phone instead of a card.
In 2011, Visa (NYSE:V), MasterCard (NYSE:MA), Discover (NYSE:DFS) and American Express (NYSE:AXP) said they would join forces, and phone makers HTC, LG, Motorola Mobility, Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), Samsung and Sony Ericsson (NYSE:SNE) announced they would make mobile devices using Isis’ technology standards.
There are also some pretty cool apps available for smartphones, mostly from smaller start-up companies. Bump and Venmo, for example, allow individuals to pay each other through their phones – one by simply “bumping” phones and the other through text messages. Venmo is looking to expand to small businesses.
The start-up that intrigues me the most is Square, which pioneered mobile payment on the iPhone with a credit card reader that plugs into the headphone jack. Square also has an app that used to be called Card Case but was recently renamed Pay With Square.
Consumers with an account can go to a participating merchant and pay for something just by stating your name, which is matched with your picture on the register display at the store. Square is one of the early innovators in this sector, and it’s a company I will watch and strongly consider for us if it goes public.
Some of the company’s leaders are noteworthy as well, including founder Jack Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter, and one of lead engineers behind Google Wallet just recently moved over to Square.