As financial services professionals, it’s easy—perhaps too easy—to segregate payment methods into their various categories: mobile, digital wallets, online bill pay and more. But as consumers, we know just how much these methods overlap and bleed into each other on a daily basis.
After a week of tracking my own habits, I’ve reached this conclusion: Payments methods, to be sure, are advancing. And when they work, they work exceedingly well to the point of making me feel empowered and efficient. In banking parlance, they create a “seamless customer experience.”
Yet sometimes (and not by fault of the banks, mind you), things unravel at the seams. So if you want to use cutting-edge payments as a consumer, you need to be ready for anything—and have a backup plan or two.
To find out just how much our minds and wallets need to literally turn on a dime, I’ve recapped my experiences below. Maybe that sounds a bit personal to share here, but hey: It’s a lot better than sharing my PIN.
Ritual app: I can order and pay for food and coffee—how I love my morning coffee—while my train pulls into the station. When I stroll into the coffee shop, the line is 20 deep—and my iced mocha waits on the counter. I’m tempted to strut by the line and whistle on my way out but resist.
Major supermarket: The debit card in my mobile wallet does not work, though it did last week. My mobile wallet credit cards work, but I don’t want to buy groceries with them. The EMV chip reader doesn’t work either. I sheepishly swipe my debit card. People behind me in line are rolling their eyes and drumming the fingers on their carts.
Music instrument store: Just before the owner swipes my debit card, he stops and offers me a discount if I pay in cash. I take him up on it and save $10.
Bank mobile app: Just a week ago, I activated voice biometrics on my banking app. But when I try to sign in to make a payment, I have to wait 90 seconds to find out it doesn't recognize my voice. I try to sign in with facial recognition, but I just got a long-to-short haircut and the app rejects me. My thumbprint, however, works. Thumbs up!
Starbucks: I’ve used my smartphone to pay for drinks here since 2011. The Starbucks mobile payment app has never failed me. Now, as for that Unicorn Frappuccino …
Hardscrabble thrift shop: This is my favorite place for one-of-a-kind finds (including this lovable junk heap of a keyboard I'm typing on now). Still, you have to dig through some decidedly down-market items first, including unfashionably ripped jeans with curious stains, dog-eared ‘80s romance novels and scratched-up lavender hockey helmets with bent grills. I scored an electric screwdriver kit for $13. As it turns out, the thrift store now takes EMV chip cards. The chi-chi boutique next door does not.
Neighborhood Mexican food joint: The crude cardboard sign in the window reads "CASH ONLY." Since I hardly carry cash, I have to dash across the street to a local bank. There's no indoor ATM, so I use the one at the drive-through. As I bend over to reach the card slot, I pray no one drives up, both for my safety's sake and to save face.
Major supermarket II: This grocery thing with my mobile wallet. Is really. Annoying. Me. The help desk for the smartphone manufacturer tells me to erase my phone and restore it from a backup. Counting the call, this takes 90 minutes. It still doesn’t’ work. Next, I try my bank’s customer service. Over the course of an hour-long call, my bank finds and removes an old security red flag. They tell me I'm good to go.
So I stop by the supermarket for a test run. And it still doesn't work. However, it works at Walgreen's without issue. Makes me wish I could do all my grocery shopping there.
Email: A friend who owes me money sends me an online check, which I’m supposed to print and deposit. Sounds like a job for mobile deposit. Talk about phoning it in.
Garage sale: I snag a nifty men’s straw hat at a friend’s sale for $5. But I look in my wallet and once again, no cash. I ask her if I can send her $5 via my PayPal app. She agrees but does not look happy. I’d hit the nearby ATM, but the $3 fee would rival the purchase price.
Church service: I contribute to my church through auto bill pay, so I don't put money in the collection plate on Sundays. It’s easy. But as I pass the plate without chipping in, I feel very, very self-conscious.
Bank branch stop: I mention to the friendly teller the issues I’m having at supermarkets with my mobile wallet’s debit card. She says the exact same thing happens to her. She tells me to close all my apps and restart my phone the next time. I’ll try anything at this point.
Looking back on my week’s worth of escapades (“escapayments,” if you prefer), I’ve learned about my own habits and beliefs more than anything else. I’ve been an early adopter of consumer payments technology, which made me think I could get through a week, or even a month, with just $10 cash or less in my wallet.
I was wrong. If you’re going to be a paragon of payments preparedness, you have to be ready for anything. And as anyone in FinTech will tell you, true innovators learn to test, learn and pivot.
I’ve tested, I’ve learned.
Now: Can someone please pivot my body in the direction of the nearest ATM?
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Lou Carlozo is the managing editor of BAI.