Who needs money?

Pretty well everyone needs money really, I guess, but what I meant was 'who needs cash?' The irritating chunks of metal that mean I rarely have a pair of trousers that last more than a year without holes appearing in the pockets (hint, trouser designers - stronger pockets, please). And you always accumulate all those copper coins that you can't be bothered to bag up and take to the bank, so they end up in a charity box or gather dust in a big jar.

Now, when I first moved to the Swindon area a little over 12 years ago, I arrived at the tail end of an experiment that held out hopes of changing all that. It was called Mondex, and it was brilliant.

You got a chip and PIN style card and you downloaded money onto it. Then you used it for all purchases where you'd normally use cash. Of course that's not so different from a debit card, but this was more controllable, and you could use it at lots of places that wouldn't have a debit/credit card reader. Where merchants get stung for accepting a credit card in a way that makes buying a bag of sweets that way inacceptable, with Mondex it was fine. Even the street newspaper vendors in Swindon had them.

Perhaps the biggest advantage it had over cash was you could get money at home. With a card-reading/writing Mondex phone, you could put cash on your card whenever you liked.

Now Mondex is a museum piece (check out the history website) but Barclays has recently announced the OnePulse a credit card, Oyster Card and payment card usable in over 1,000 shops in London for purchases under £10 (though payment does come from the credit card, not loaded cash), which may see the resurrection of the concept. I'm very tempted to get one.

However, I suspect the next generation of cashless payment will be subtly different. The best contenders at the moment are either expanding debit card use so it is acceptable for a 20p purchase (and everyone accepts them, which means slashing the cost to merchants) or using something else like a mobile phone to initiate the payment.

Admittedly we already have this to an extent in those car parks where you can pay by phone, but they are too low tech and desperately slow. With mark II phone payment I would imagine typing a number from the car park (or newspaper vendor or whatever) into my phone (or more likely scanning a barcode or reading an RFID chip), entering the amount I want to pay and paying instantly.

Whatever the technical solution, I just can't wait to get rid of cash!


  1. The Danes have used a system like Mondex for years, and we have it in Finland now - whenever I use my card to pay for something, I get asked "Pankki?", which doesn't sound quite right to my English ears.

    There are ways of paying for some stuff with your mobile phone here, but I haven't looked into that too closely.


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