June 4, 2016 at 6:56 pm #22797
Satan’s credit card: What the mark of the beast taught me about the future of money
Silicon Valley has sold us on a cashless, cardless, walletless, supposedly frictionless future — but as I learned living in it for a month, we’re not quite there yet.
Monday, 23 May 2016 | 5:22 PM ETBuzzfeed
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It’s the dead of winter in Stockholm and I’m sitting in a very small room inside the very inaptly named Calm Body Modification clinic. A few feet away sits the syringe that will, soon enough, plunge into the fat between my thumb and forefinger and deposit a glass-encased microchip roughly the size of an engorged grain of rice.
“You freaking out a little?” asks Calm’s proprietor, a heavily tattooed man named Chai, as he runs an alcohol-soaked cotton swab across my hand. “It’s all right. You’re getting a microchip implanted inside your body. It’d be weird if you weren’t freaking out a little bit.” Of Course It Fucking Hurts!, his T-shirt admonishes in bold type.
My choice to get microchipped was not ceremonial. It was neither atranshumanist statement nor the fulfillment of a childhood dream born of afternoons reading science fiction. I was here in Stockholm, a city that’s supposedly left cash behind, to see out the extreme conclusion of a monthlong experiment to live without cash, physical credit cards, and, eventually, later in the month, state-backed currency altogether, in a bid to see for myself what the future of money — as is currently being written by Silicon Valley — might look like
Read more from BuzzFeed News:
I put a payment chip in my hand to replace my wallet (YouTube)
A billion dollars was transferred over Venmo in January
Fed says 22% of cell phone owners made a mobile payment In 2014
Some of most powerful corporations in the world — Apple, Facebook, and Google; the Goliaths, the big guys, the companies that make the safest bets and rarely lose — are pouring resources and muscle into the payments industry, historically a complicated, low-margin business. Meanwhile, companies like Uber and Airbnb have been forced to become payments giants themselves, helping to facilitate and process millions of transactions (and millions of dollars) each day. A recent report from the auditor KPMG revealed that global investment in fintech — financial technology, that is — totaled $19.1 billion in 2015, a 106% jump compared to 2014; venture capital investment alone nearly quintupled between 2012 and last year. In 2014, Americans spent more than $3.68 billion using tap-to-pay tech, according to eMarketer. In 2015, that number was $8.71 billion, and in 2019, it’s projected to hit $210.45 billion. As Apple CEO Tim Cook told (warned?) a crowd in the U.K. last November, “Your kids will not know what money is.”
To hear Silicon Valley tell it, the broken-in leather wallet is on life support. I wanted to pull the plug. Which is how, ultimately, I found myself in this sterile Swedish backroom staring down a syringe the size of a pipe cleaner. I was here because I wanted to see the future of money. But really, I just wanted to pay for some shit with a microchip in my hand.
Source: Jared Harrell / BuzzFeed News
Calm Body Modification chip implant
The first thing you’ll notice if you ever decide to surrender your wallet is how damn many apps you’ll need in order to replace it. You’ll need a mobile credit card replacement — Apple Pay or Android Pay — for starters, but you’ll also need person-to-person payment apps like Venmo, PayPal, and Square Cash. Then don’t forget the lesser-knowns: Dwolla, Tilt, Tab, LevelUp, SEQR, Popmoney, P2P Payments, and Flint. Then you might as well embrace the cryptocurrency of the future, bitcoin, by downloading Circle, Breadwallet, Coinbase, Fold, Gliph, Xapo, and Blockchain. You’ll also want to cover your bases with individual retailer payment apps like Starbucks, Walmart, USPS Mobile, Exxon Speedpass, and Shell Motorist, to name but a few. Plus public and regular transit apps — Septa in Philadelphia, NJ Transit in New Jersey, Zipcar, Uber, Lyft. And because you have to eat and drink, Seamless, Drizly, Foodler, Saucey, Waitress, Munchery, and Sprig. The future is fractured.
This isn’t lost on Bryan Yeager, a senior analyst who covers payments for eMarketer. “This kind of piecemeal fragmentation is probably one of the biggest inhibitors out there,” he said. “I’ll be honest: It’s very confusing, not just to me, but to most customers. And it really erodes the value proposition that mobile payments are simpler.”
On a frigid January afternoon in Midtown Manhattan, just hours into my experiment, I found myself at 2 Bros., a red-tiled, fluorescent-lit pizza shop that operates with an aversion to frills. As I made my way past a row of stainless steel ovens, I watched the patrons in front of me grab their glistening slices while wordlessly forking over mangled bills, as has been our country’s custom for a century and a half. When my turn came to order, I croaked what was already my least-favorite phrase: “Do you, um, take Apple Pay?” The man behind the counter blinked four times before (wisely) declaring me a lost cause and moving to the next person in line.
This kind of bewildered rejection was fairly common. A change may be coming for money, but not everyone’s on board yet, and Yaeger’s entirely correct that the “simple” value proposition hasn’t entirely come to pass. Paying with the wave of a phone, I found, pushes you toward extremes; to submit to the will of one of the major mobile wallets is to choose between big-box retailers and chain restaurants and small, niche luxury stores. The only business in my Brooklyn neighborhood that took Apple Pay or Android Pay was a cafe where a large iced coffee runs upwards of $5; globally, most of the businesses that have signed on as Apple Pay partners are large national chains like Jamba Juice, Pep Boys, Best Buy, and Macy’s.
Partially for this reason, the primary way most Americans are currently experiencing the great fintech boom isn’t through Apple or Android Pay at all, but through proprietary payment apps from chains such as Target, Walmart, and Starbucks — as of last October, an astonishing 1 in 5 of all Starbucks transactions in the U.S. were done through the company’s mobile app. It wouldn’t be all that hard to live a fully functional — if possibly boring — cash-free consumer life by tapping and swiping the proprietary apps of our nation’s biggest stores.
If that doesn’t feel revolutionary or particularly futuristic, it’s because it’s not really meant to. But the future of mobile retail is assuredly dystopian. Just ask Andy O’Dell, who works for Clutch, a marketing company that helps with consumer loyalty programs and deals with these kinds of mobile purchasing apps. “Apple Pay and the Starbucks payment app have nothing to do with actual payments,” he told me. “The power of payments and the future of these programs is in the data they generate.”
“The power of payments is in the data they generate.”-Andy O’Dell, Clutch
Imagine this future: Every day you go to Starbucks before work because it’s right near your house. You use the app, and to ensure your reliable patronage, Starbucks coughs up a loyalty reward, giving you a free cup of coffee every 15 visits. Great deal, you say! O’Dell disagrees. According to him, Starbucks is just hurting its margins by giving you something you’d already be buying. The real trick, he argued, is changing your behavior. He offers a new scenario where this time, instead of a free coffee every 15 visits, you get a free danish — which you try and then realize it goes great with coffee. So you start buying a danish once a week, then maybe twice a week, until it starts to feel like it was your idea all along.
In that case, O’Dell said, Starbucks has “changed my behavior and captured more share of my wallet, and they’ve also given me more of what I want.”
“That’s terrifying,” I told him.
“But that’s the brave new world, man,” he shot back. “Moving payments from plastic swipes to digital taps is going to change how companies influence your behavior. That’s what you’re asking, right? Well, that’s how we’re doing it.”
In this sense, the payments rush is, in no small part, a data rush. Creating a wallet that’s just a digital version of the one you keep in your pocket is not the endgame. But figuring out where you shop, when you shop, and exactly what products you have an affinity for, and then bundling all that information in digestible chunks to inform the marketers of the world? Being able to, as O’Dell puts it, “drive you to the outcome they want you to have like a rat in a maze by understanding, down to your personality, who you are”? That’s disruption worth investing in.
For all its complexity and bureaucracy and importance, money, at its core, is really just information. When FDR weaned the United States off the gold standard in 1933, cash, no longer backed by physical gold, became an abstraction. Today, that abstraction is pushed to new extremes: Not only does 92% of the money in the world exist as a series of ones and zeroes, but now it’s being transferred from place to place by any number of digital intermediaries looking to take a cut.
Read more and view the videos at http://www.cnbc.com/2016/05/23/satans-credit-card-what-the-mark-of-the-beast-taught-me-about-the-future-of-money.html
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