Filed Under: Money, Payment systems

Much ado about Near-Field

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Act I, Scene I.

A Dashing Brit (DB) traveller in the Big Apple notices that the iconic New York yellow cab whisking him through the concrete canyons to his lodgings is fitted with a touch screen and a contactless card reader.

DB: “Can I pay by card?”

Taxi Driver: “You don’t have any cash, man?”

DB: “No, I just got here. You do take cards, right?”

Taxi Driver: “Yeah, but you know, they charge us like $5 to take your card…”

DB enters $5 tip on the touch screen, then, with a flourish, taps his iPhone fitted with a splendid MasterCard PayPass sticker against the reader. Nothing happens, until the transaction times out.

DB: “Can you do it again, thanks.”

Having asked the clearly exasperated driver to re-enter the transaction and trys both contactless Visa and contactless Amex cards. None of them work. In the DB sheepishly uses the magnetic stripe on his British Airways Amex cards and swipes his way to success. A receipt is printed, and DB goes on his way.

Act I, Scene II.

Broadway. It’s late, but the heat from the day’s sun is still leaking from the asphalt, bathing the pedestrians in an unwelcome June warmth. The street is a cacophony of voices, languages, dialects, creoles. In a few seconds, the sounds of conversation in German, Mandarin and Spanish drift by. A Dishevelled Bearded (DB) grey-haired sage is walking in the road because the sidewalk is full. He glances down a sidestreet and sees a garish sign, the gist of which is that Dunkin Donuts is open round the clock.

“What a country” he thinks to himself as he is drawn towards the light int he clutches of a tractor beam forged in primal fires from sugar and fat, “but I really do heart NY”.

He moves slowly, precisely to the racks of deep-fried delight on display. But he is momentarily distracted by what he thought was an advertising display but has now realised is an ATM. His chemically-dependent slavish devotion to the evil geniuses behind the brand goes to 11: they have their own-brand ATMs. The own-brand money cannot be far behind.

DB muttering: “What a country…”

He shakes his head and turns back to the massed ranks of super-dense calorie containers.

DB still muttering: “…what a country!”

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Act I: Scene III.

It’s late June in New York. The heat is oppressive, the air pregnant with rain, a thunderstorm must come soon. A Distressed Businessperson (DB) on his way to an appointment, staggers into a west-side neighbourhood coffee shop. He stands in line, feeling the uncomfortable sensation of sweat running from his receding hairline to his eyebrows. Even with his advanced years, he can hardly not notice the scantily-clad, petite twentysomething blone woman in front of him. She addresses the Indian coffee cup server in a charming local manner.

Petite Blonde: “Just a cawfee, plenty of room for milk”

Indian Server: “$2.50”

The petite blonde proffers a debit card that prominently display the brand of a well-known internationally-famous banking house.

Indian Server: “Sorry, cash only”

Petite Blonde: “Are you serious? You’re kidding right?”

Indian Server: “No cards. You can use the ATM”

He waves toward and ATM that sits, with big red lettering in a strangely old-fashioned typeface, next to the cream and sugar station.

Petite Blonde: “Fugget it…”

She turns to leave, then hesitates and turns back, starting to open her wallet (for our English readers: purse).

Petite Blonde: “No, wait… maybe I got it”

She rummages in the wallet and eventually uncovers a dollar bill and some change. She hands to the Indian server and takes her coffee, while DB begins to rummage in his backpack, certain that he remembers seeing a $5 in his Moleskine yesterday.


Act I, Scene IV.

A Dog-Tired Backpacker (DB) is slumped at his breakfast table in a downtown Manhattan hotel. Unable to sleep, he has been awake since the early hours. Unable to concentrate on his tasks at hand, he has been composing nonsensical observations about financial services of niche interest, intending to foist them on an uncaring universe via a web log. All around him are the men and women who are the beating hearts of commerce and trade. Not all of them are international: one on a nearby table is American and he is yelling into his iPad, having a Facetime video conference with a colleague. At breakfast. In a public place. DB is driven from his Raisin Bran by this performance and stomps across to the coffee station to grab some Joe to go. In his haste to get away from the blockhead banging on about business prospects for the next quarter, he fails to attach the lid to the coffee cup securely, with the natural consequence that it falls off, and he slops coffee on his chinos.

On his way back to the room to attempt an emergency clean-up on Aisle 1, he remembers that he saw a men’s clothing store a block away. He heads overt here and finds a pair of Dockers in the right colour (ie, any) and the right size (REDACTED). He pays with his Amex card, because his John Lewis MasterCard was cancelled following a suspicious transaction and the replacement hasn’t arrived.

Menswear Assistant: “Cash or card?”

DB: “Card.”

DB takes his Amex and swipes it through the terminal in front of him. He is then invited to sign the large, clear screen using a plastic stylus. He does so (signing it, as always, “Snoopy Dogg” as a fraud prevention mechanism — if a fraudster steals the card, then they would sign it DB, because that’s the name on the card, thus any forensic investigation would immediately flag the transaction as bogus).

Menswear Assistant: “Thank you sir, please call again.”

DB wanders into Starbucks next door and orders a medium coffee with an extra shot and an oatmeal raison cookie.

Cheery Barrista: “$4.85 please”

DB hands over pre-paid US dollar Travelex MasterCard, which the Cheery Barrista swipes in an instant and returns.

Cheery Barrista: “Do you want a receipt?”

DB: “No thanks.”

Cheery Barrista: “Have a great day.”

DB turns toward to counter where patrons queue to pick up their completed beverage orders. He stops, puzzled, lost in thought. He thinks to himself “Hhhmmm… there’s no way that contactless technology is going to make that transaction any faster, and customers don’t care about security, because it’s not their problem, so how is it going to catch on in the US?”

As the dark clouds of thunderstorms stack above the skyscrapers of Wall Street, DB ambles toward the Museum of American Finance, only to find that it doesn’t open on Mondays. Lost in tortured thought about the mobile wallet and the competitive strategies of his clients, he reaches for his iPod, turning the corner of Broad Street to the sounds of “Brainbox Pollution” by the world’s greatest ever popular beat combo, the mighty Hawkwind.

Exit, pursued by bronze bull.

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

2 thoughts on “Much ado about Near-Field”

  1. nholland@yankeegroup.com' Nick Holland says:

    So very true, Dashing Brit.

  2. jim@netbanker.com' Jim Bruene says:

    David, You’ve outdone yourself. How will you ever top this post! Save travels back and hope you get a good night sleep.

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