Cash... Almost As Good As Money! (The Story of Two Americans in London)
Mark, although we were both recently in London, shockingly, our paths didn’t cross—the city was bustling as the Commonwealth leaders had all descended upon the British capital, which was also readying for its annual Marathon. You were there for work (cooped up in conference rooms) while I was there for fun (and the surprisingly fantastic weather made my trip that much more enjoyable). So enjoyable in fact that I’d rate my trip a 9.7 out of 10, a rarity these days. The reason for the 0.3 demerits? A frustrating taxi experience!
Dan Ring: Mark, we talk about demonetization all the time and the path to the digital payments utopia… we work for a global digital payments company after all! And we get to talk about trends that are happening half way around the world as well as right here in our own backyards and one thing is certain, the discussion around cash is a nuanced one, and you have times in your life that you are painfully reminded of that.
Mark Ranta: Dan, I have this drawer that everyone has… I call it the junk drawer.
Dan: Oooh, I have one too… it’s filled with takeout menus from restaurants that are no longer open (sigh)
Mark: Mine’s got all sorts of fun things in it—a camera from the Preakness in 2005 that I never took to get developed, countless USB thumb drives that could go in a museum on Moore’s Law (the first one is 68mb, that’s like 20 pictures… the last one in the collection is 128gb)—but the best part of this drawer is the random currency collection I have amassed over the past 20 years of travel. Finnish Marks, Italian Lire, British Pounds, Hungarian Forint and who knows what else… I am basically a small scale Travelex. So, as it’s spring here on the East Coast, I did some (spring) cleaning and found about 30 GBP worth of random notes and coins, none was “old,” but they certainly weren’t minted in the last 10 years either. So here I am, with 30 quid all ready to buy a round of pints… or as it turned out, the bus fare from Watford Junction to the Harry Potter Experience. And it also turns out the bus is “cash only,” and for a group of payments professionals, this is a sign none of us expected to see, but no worries right… I have a pocket full of random coins which will easily cover us! Well think again!
Dan: Can I blame Prince Harry?
Mark: Leave him alone; he’s got a wedding to think about, but where was I? Right, so anyone who has been a student of cash will know that the old 1 GBP coins are no longer in circulation, nor is the 10 GBP note… so I was now short because much of my 20 GBP was actually no longer legal tender! I had carried a few pounds worth of what I thought were pounds, but in fact they are now just souvenirs (unless you have a bank relationship in England where you can turn your currency in for new notes/coins, but that’s as useful as a blow up dart board).
Dan: Blimey, that’s bloody bollocks!!! Before we get into my taxi cab confessional, please, continue. What happened next?
Mark: After trying your various (and memorable) methods of paying—winking, smiling, nodding—I was left in the same predicament with a bunch of Harry Potter fans literally trying to put spells on me. Thankfully, the youngest of our team members had some “new” cash on him and we were able to proceed. But the embarrassment lingers, and my anger that I couldn’t just switch to the warm cuddly confines of a digital payment was irksome… The Harry Potter experience was otherwise amazing. So tell me about your cabbie experience?
Dan: After “torturing” my daughter with a quick trip to the amazing British Library, she was in no mood to walk to our next destination. Actually, she was in no mood to take public transportation to our next destination (even after we had shelled out cash on Travelcards). She’d had her fill of Tubes and double-decker buses and demanded a taxi… she might’ve even hailed one on her own, which would explain why one arrived just as I was getting out my phone to order an Uber. So she hops in the taxi and we quickly follow suit (I was not going to let her instruct the driver on where to take us… as Paris would’ve been a costly taxi fare). As we make our way through the traffic-laden roads and my frustration mounts (because it’s nice outside and I’d rather walk than spend unnecessarily), I ask the driver to pull to the side; he disregards my request and pulls into some long queue of taxis where we have to wait another 2 minutes to exit (all the while I’m muttering obscenities under my breath, which are audible to my much more patient wife). When we finally reach the end of the line, I pull out my credit card and as I’m about to dip, the driver tells me it’s “cash only” (even though there are stickers/placards on the window with credit card logos). I reach my boiling point, but again, my more patient wife intervenes (and scolds me) as my tirade commences… and to borrow a quote from Seinfeld, “yada yada yada,” I pull out some British bills, hand one to him, wait for my wife and daughter to exit before I tell him what he can do with the cash (there might’ve been a couple of additional expletives thrown in for good measure).
Mark: You know, this is why Uber took off… the awkwardness of the payment in taxis can be borderline unbearable, if not downright abuse. I had a similar experience with our fearless colleague Lu, who was quick to point out the law is actually on our side on this one, but again, in a dark alley in a foreign country, that’s as useful as chocolate teapot, as they say…
Dan: I’d eat a chocolate teapot… but I digress. I think the moral of these stories is multi-fold… though for me, it all comes down to not giving in to a child’s demands when you (I) have a Travelcard. But this does lead into similar scenarios when it comes to card vs cash, such as going to an eatery, eating and then having the server tell you that you can’t use your card unless your bill totals a certain amount. Not only is that not right, but it ain’t right either (that doesn’t make any sense, but I want “ain’t” to make a comeback). So I think the onus is really on consumers to 1) inquire and 2) complain, right?
Mark: Whatever happened to the customer is always right?!? Why doesn’t that apply when it comes time for the check/tab?!? Consumers unfortunately are caught somewhere in the middle here… we need to be informed, but also more needs to be done on the merchant side, and understanding the clear value that giving consumers a choice in payment methods will only help. Now, living in the era of social media, bad experiences like the above can only help drive the change we all really do want.
Dan: Speaking of social media, what’s up with the all these pizza rats? Maybe that’s why my daughter wanted to avoid the Tube?
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