30 March, 2011

The Payment Rant...

In Australia I was "one of those" annoying smug bitches who didn't carry cash ANYWHERE. All my bills were paid online. AND I'll have you know they were scheduled IN ADVANCE whenever savings levels permitted. It was stupidly satisfying to log into my trusty Online Banking and see a nice tidy list of what was coming out next, how much, and when it would be automatically transferred. No stupid queues at the post office, no carrying around embarrassing phone bills or hideously high electricity accounts, no fiddling with cheques, stuffing of envelopes or traipsing to the post box, and definitely no licking of stamps (can you imagine if the stamp had someone disgustingly ugly on it? And you had to lick the backside? Ewwww....)

When it came time to pay my council rates in Australia, I was just furious. The stupid council was back in the dark ages and only allowed payment by cash in person, or by sending a cheque. Cheque - cheque - seriously? What is this, 1955? Who the hell uses such an antiquated system like handwriting and a signature, in this day and age? Isn't that just asking for forgery and emptying of bank account, via some enterprising thief with an eraser and a few extra zeroes?

I can't jam a 20 euro note into my disk drive to buy that new computer game that looks cool. I can't magic overnight presents to family in Australia via a few notes in my purse. There's no practical way to convert that huge jar of loose coins into becoming a mortgage repayment. But I can buy a drink from a machine, pay for a bus fare, grab a movie ticket, or check in for a flight, all using cards - indeed I could do all these things simply with an old and crappy mobile phone, if I wanted to. No smartphone required.

So why do so many of us still insist on whipping out cash, when we have had electronic payment systems a while now? The fact that some are so old shouldn't stop the newer ones from being used - if anything, the recent "skimming" events in Australia should serve to highlight just how many people, and businesses, have failed to keep up with new technologies like chip & pin, rather than the lame old magnetic swipe (now an ancient 51 years old!!!). We're consumers, people: stand up and demand these businesses give your money more respect. And I don't buy the "privacy" argument. They don't have the right to record your photo and personal details when you hand over cash. Why let them by card? There's a Privacy Act in Australia, people: apart from marketing trends such as how many hamburgers were sold in your suburb last Tuesday, they can't, and don't keep track of you without your permission. If you have objections to what they do track, then rather than switching to cash, stop handing over that "rewards" card before you pay. That's where they are recording personal info about your shopping habits.

These days, I really dislike it when I must carry cash for something. First I have to worry whether there's enough cash in my wallet. If there's enough, I worry it will be stolen or lost. I simply don't like carrying it - it feels "unsafe". If my wallet goes AWOL, I can cancel a card. I can't cancel a cash.

And my view has been strengthened by living amongst arguably the most tech-savvy population in the world (Finland). Finns of all ages learn do pay online as easily as sending email. Most of them pay by EFTPOS as the norm. I no longer find it amazing that cashless is normal, and I get a rude shock each time I remember that Australians often have no option. It's 2011. Almost every household in Australia has a computer; technology covers the entire globe. Isn't it time we moved away from silly old round tokens and bits of paper?

One last request: If public toilets here in Finland can't be made free, I'd like them to invent a fast and easy card system please. I don't wanna have to jangle just to jingle.