Back to basics: Will you be paying in cash?

Nov. 19, 2012 | by Richard Buckle

In the fall of 1977, I was living in Dallas and happened by a mall just after HP introduced a watch that had an integrated calculator in the watchband and a micro stylus so you could tap on the keys. And all of this, in a simple unglamorous metal housing, could be had for the princely sum of $750.00. And yes, I almost bought one, but for a junior programmer like me at the time (pardon the pun) it was a tad too expensive.

However, as the '80s unfolded and the digital era emerged, there was soon very little a watch couldn't do and purchasing a timepiece that only tracked the passage of time began to be difficult to justify.

A similar tale could be told about the humble phone. While working this past week in Southern California, I ran into an acquaintance who proudly showed me his Motorola phone — from the early 80s. It didn't ring (anymore), and it didn't play music or support navigation.

All my acquaintance could do with the phone was place a call. And he liked it for just that reason. I have to wonder what the younger generation sitting at coffee tables nearby would have made of his almost museum piece.

Phones provide so much value today. They tell the time, pull up our email, receive instant messages, and yes, allow us to make calls.

Recently in Vancouver, I passed parking meters on the city streets that would allow me to call a number from my mobile phone, enter a meter number and then request (and pay) for time. No cash, no cards, no hassles, with a receipt (I assume) emailed to me should I request the city to do so. We have come to expect so much from our phones, so what about our ATMs?

If what has been discussed in these posts comes to fruition, will finding an ATM that simply dispenses cash become as hard as to find as a watch that just tells the time or a phone that just makes calls? Clearly, regional conditions will influence just how far down this path we will travel, with some markets slower to change than others.

But could the time come when we begin to view ATMs that dispense cash as legacy devices — reminders of a time when we simply did things differently? Imagine that; all those years ago, carrying wallets full of cards and cash. How quaint.

Speaking of cash: a friend's RV decided to act up, and he was stuck by the side of the road. A mechanic arrived, performed the repair, and informed my friend that he took payment either with credit cards or cash. My friend asked if he would take cash — "with good credit, of course." The mechanic gave my friend a puzzled look, but it only took a moment before he smiled. There will be still situations where cash is king!

The pundits say we would all be better off without having to rely on cards and cash, but for most of us, this will be a long time coming. The infrastructure simply isn't built out to the point where we can carry on our lives without either. But if I were to suggest that we bet on any of this happening in our lifetimes, would you want me to back up my bet with cash?

The basic service of a watch is telling the time. The basic service of a phone is supporting calls. And the basic service of an ATM, no matter how we cut and dice it, is still dispensing cash.

Once again, I am heading to Las Vegas, where my wife, Margo, and I will be entertaining a business associate for the weekend. There will be shows and slot machines. There will be bars and restaurants. There will be souvenirs. And all the while, there will be the need to tip. Thank goodness for cash and the proliferation of ATMs.

So, the next time I use my smartphone it will be to make a call — there's a taxi I have to catch! 

Topics: Branch Transformation

Richard Buckle / Richard Buckle is the founder and CEO of Pyalla Technologies LLC. He has enjoyed a long association with the IT industry as a user, vendor, and more recently, as an industry commentator.
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