My Cashless, Walletless Day. E-Payments, A Reality?


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There is a sign on my frontdoor. It reads simply, “Don’t forget, keys, phone, wallet”. For me, there has never been any problems remembering any of those things. Living in New York City, forgetting any of those things just leads to a disaster.

At the same time, I am often accused by my assistants and secretaries of not reading past the first sentence or first line. This is a true accusation. One secretary wrote me several emails in succession, all with one short sentence in each of them just to grab my attention. (She was very smart!)

So what has the two ideas have to do with another? Well, you see, last week, I actually did read past the first line; I read the second line, but not the third. I forgot my wallet. Now normally in NYC, this would be a problem. Traveling anywhere in NYC requires some form of payment – a Metrocard for the bus or the subway, or a credit card or cash for a cab. But I have been trying out Uber, the car sharing service, as I was traveling into Brooklyn to meet a client, a borough that after living in NYC for 18 years, that I still find particularly foreign.

Half way into my trip into Brooklyn, I realized that I didn’t have my wallet. Panic sets in. I called the restaurant in the hope that they would take some alternative type of payment – good faith, washing the dishes, etc. But alas, this was a traditional restaurant that took just Visa or Mastercard. I arrived early, and noticed that their credit card processing terminal was so archaic, I was surprised they weren’t still using the old swipe method!

(At this point, picture bespectacled Asian guy, standing in Polish diner, sweating bullets) What to do?

Well, there was no point trying to fake my way through it, so I admitted to my client what happened. He was generous enough to admit he had been in a similar situation several times himself, and we laughed about my little blunder throughout the meal. Needless to say, while it turned out there was a subway station several blocks away, I had to call an Uber ride on the way home (although, many of the cabs in NYC now have pay by phone systems).

BUT … on my way home, I received a text from my spouse reminding me of my commitment to pick up some bread! Oh no. I was already several “honey do’s” shy for the day, and if I came home absent the bread, I was surely going to be in deeper trouble. So, I alighted at the local supermarket, again wondering what I could do without a credit card or cash.

Then I realized they accepted Google Wallet. I had an NFC enabled phone. I had my credit card linked to it, so I would simply “tap and pay”. I have to say, as excited as I was to use my electronic wallet (and e-payment) for the first time, I was very skeptical about its success. Nonetheless, I tried, and voila, it worked.

The Bottom Line

So unceremoniously quoting Meatloaf “two out of three ain’t bad”. Uber and the supermarket, against the old school diner. What does this mean for the future? Can I actually go through a day without carrying my wallet? I’m not sure. I can certainly have a cashless existence. I’ve done that many times. I do it constantly on domestic travel. I’ve done it several times traveling internationally. But, not carrying a credit card (and of course an ID), I would argue is a few years away.

And, like most things, it is not technology that holds us back. It is people and process. The technology is there – as witnessed by both Uber and by the supermarket. But getting “old school” enterprises to buy into cardless transactions may take a much longer time. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to rework my sign. Perhaps it should be digital, and only flash one reminder at a time!