Our money may be green, but it's not about to die!
It has been a very busy period for me, and more than a month since I last posted to the ATM Marketplace blog. A heavy travel schedule took me to the heart of Silicon Valley, where I met with folks representing both mature vendors and startups — folks who worked for HPE and Apple and a cofounder of a start-up focused on a cool "data-streaming analytics platform" that is showing exciting potential.
In between these meetings I met with the CEO of a payments solutions vendor transitioning products from on-premises offerings to optional "cloud-based software-as-a-service" that his company designed and implemented itself.
As for this last point, when it comes to public and semi-public clouds, let me be bold here and predict that for many financial institutions, it will be boutique semi-public clouds that eventually rule the roost!
During this trip I tried, yet again, to live solely on plastic and relegated my cash to an inside pocket of my travel wallet. But almost everywhere I turned I found the need to use cash.
Even though I live in Colorado, I continue to drive to meetings wherever they are held in North America. At this time of year, this means calling on the services of our trusty SUV. You cannot live in the United States without owning at least one SUV.
Unfortunately, this SUV had a tire with a very hard-to-find leak, and my hand was constantly in my pocket digging for quarters to feed gas station air dispensers, which are not free even if you buy gas, since most gas stations have outsourced their compressed air dispensers.
Also, driving across the many bridges that span the Bay area, you will find cash-only booths — unless you carry an Express Toll tag.
I still dispense tips into jars at coffee and sandwich shops. And in a noticeable trend, it is not uncommon to see patrons at a fine dining establishment throw a $10 or $20 bill onto the tray next to the signed credit card slip — which also has a tip added. In Silicon Valley, there is nothing more highly valued among service providers than a little extra cash.
As it turned out, I survived only part of one day cashless in Silicon Valley and, shortly after arriving, had to turn to an ATM to freshen my supply. The good news here is that banks are upgrading their ATMs to provide a selection of notes dispensed, although the denominations surprise me — combinations in increments of $5, $20 or $100 struck me as odd.
Our money has always been green and amongst the most boring ever printed but at least I now have options and, the harder I try to prove otherwise, the more I can tell it's not going to die any time soon.
But let's take another look at this: At a time when communities still talk about the end of cash and the emergence of cashless societies, what is driving further investment in ATM functionality?
In a recent article, CNBC Financial News noted that "People in Sweden barely use cash — and that's sounding alarm bells for the country's central bank." The article also observed that Sweden is "already considered to be the most cashless society in the world." Furthermore, "the overwhelming majority of the nation — 85 percent — have access to online banking."
According to research conducted by Capgemini and BNP Paribas and referenced in the CNBC article, "Just 2 percent of the total value of transactions in Sweden consist of cash, and this is expected to decline to less than half a percent by 2020."
However, it was a quote from Cecilia Skingsley, deputy governor of Riksbank, that resonated with me.
"Our own starting point really is that we provide notes and coins to the society to the extent that society wants to use our version of money versus other versions of money as long as it is safe and efficient," she said. "But we have noticed this rapid development, we have noticed that there are a number of people and there a number of situations and their geographies where cash is absolutely vital."
CNBC added that, "Elderly people and refugees are among those that would need access to physical cash even if the overwhelming majority of the country doesn't."
In previous posts I have written about people who use cash as a budgetary mechanism, while others prefer it for security reasons. Quick access to cash in a disaster has also been mentioned, as has the need for cash to expedite preferential travel considerations.
The CNBC article reminded me of an observation made by Princess Leia to her captor, Death Star commander Wilhuff Tarkin, in the very first Star Wars movie: "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."
Yes, the more we work to remove cash from society, the more important it will become to one segment of society or another … so, let's just get on with building better systems in support of cash.
Innovation? Surely adding a couple of extra denominations doesn't really qualify as being innovative — and yet, it is positive proof that vendors are still working hard to meet changing customer requirements.
A trip to Silicon Valley proved to be yet another time to take a deep breath, look around and not make assumptions. If cash still reigns on the home turf of technology advancement and innovation, then what of the rest of the world?
We read so often about emerging economies skipping an entire generation of technology — power and communications being examples. But don't presume we can dump cash into the same classification.
Not only is cash not dead, but it is also most definitely here to stay. It might be the storyline for futurists wanting to make a splash, but for realists it's a different story entirely.
And trust me, from what I have seen, that's a positive story that you can take to the bank.
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. www