Why I no longer bother with cash

30 September 2019

A personal journey to contactless payment

I thought I liked ‘physical money’. The feeling of having notes and coins in my pocket was something I appreciated (having often gone without it). So, the thought of waving a card to make small purchases had little appeal. Until, one day, it did.

As a child, I would marvel at my dad’s habit of occasionally pulling from his pocket a large collection of coins of every denomination. I can’t even remember why he did this  – perhaps to remind him why he worked so hard.

Since my pocket money usually amounted to no more than a few of them, it’s no surprise that, once I started earning on my own, I enjoyed the feeling of coins and notes jumbled up in my own pockets – even after the introduction of those clunky two pound coins, or those plastic fivers that feel like laminated ID badges.

 

Contactless payment was launched in 2007

I remember hearing about it on the radio, but it was only available from one card issuer in a few London postcodes, so I didn’t pay too much notice. Like most people, I had no idea that this seemingly minor initiative would transform the entire retail landscape.

My own first contactless experience was an accident. While waiting for friends in a Camden bar, I wanted to buy a drink but didn’t have any small change – remember that feeling? So, I asked if I could pay with my debit card.

Unfazed by my request, the barman surprised me by fiddling about mysteriously with my card before returning it with my drink. Only later did I recall the missing element of this transaction: my PIN. I made a mental note to check my bank account later, but suspected it was all legit – or maybe, after a few sips, I didn’t care.

 

The pressure mounts

More recently, when my young niece, Grace, came to stay with us – and after I’d asked her if I could borrow small, emergency amounts of cash (pathetic, I know) – I would lamely joke that she was like the Queen (who according to legend never carries cash). Then, one day, the… er, penny dropped: Grace didn’t use cash, she would never use cash.

Still, I ploughed on. One day, the coffee concession stand run by Ali near my underground train station went contactless and I was no longer obliged to find £1.70 in cash for my morning Americano.

 

But my resistance finally broke during a trip to Berlin

Okay, it’s a roundabout explanation, but with two hours to pass before meeting friends at a Thai restaurant in Charlottenburg, I decided to walk it.

According to Google Maps, the route was almost a straight line from the apartment in Pankow where I was staying, and would lead me through some unfamiliar areas of the city (unfortunately, as I found out, there was a good reason why they were unfamiliar).

Two-thirds of the way along, as the city’s grim, industrial hinterland finally gave way to something greener and more appealing, my phone’s remaining charge was down in single-digit percentages and my plan was ruined.

In order to find the restaurant, I needed to preserve the phone’s remaining battery life, which meant continuing the journey via their famous u-Bahn underground system. Unfortunately, that meant contending with the city’s fearsomely intricate ticket-purchasing system. Feeling the mixed wad of Euros in my pocket, I descended into the station

The experience was as labyrinthine as ever – a myriad of touchscreen buttons full of options, prices and instructions. Soon I was ready to attempt the most precarious part of the transaction – the bit where I tentatively slip a Euro into the metal banknote acceptor to make the actual payment.

However, just before doing so, I spied that semi-familiar logo, like a tipped over wifi symbol that indicated – ‘Contactless.’ Hesitantly, I held my card against it… and the machine spat out my ticket!

 

A small tap for this man

But a giant leap in terms of my outlook. Now, like all those carefree metropolitan sophisticates, I no longer bother much with cash. Indeed, on the last occasion that I remember having a twenty in my pocket, it mysteriously vanished. They’re really not worth the trouble.

I love Contactless.

Brendan Staunton

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