Never one to adopt novelties with unseemly haste, I was nevertheless an early adopter of credit cards. I applied for one soon after they became available in the UK in the 1960s. The card I obtained then I have still and use it for most of my non-cash spending. In fact, I have two from the same company, the first, in my “civilian name”, and a second, in the name of SilverTiger, which the bank, slightly bemused perhaps, was good enough to issue.
Older readers may remember the furore when a group of banks came together to issue a credit card called Access (advertised as “Your flexible friend”), which they then proceeded to send to all their customers without first enquiring whether these customers wanted the card or not. Questions were asked in Parliament about this but as the deed was done and dusted, it was too late to do anything about it.
After a few years of operating as a “free” card, that is, one without a monthly or annual fee, Access decided to start chargng, at which point I ceremoniously cut mine into four pieces and sent it back to the card company.
Compared with today, using a credit card in those early days was a somewhat clumsy process. The vendor needed to fill in a carbonized voucher which was then placed in a machine together with the credit card and the roller run across it. This impressed the card’s embossed details on the voucher which also had to be signed by the customer.
Credit cards could only be used for fairly large sums and most shopkeepers applied a minimum below which you had to pay cash.
The first revolution to disturb this sleepy state of affairs was the advent of “chip and pin”, when cards became activated by means of an embedded mini-processor, capable of communicating through the payment machine and the telephone service with the bank’s computers. The supposedly secret 4-digit PIN (“personal identification number”) had to be typed in to ensure that the person using the card was its legitimate owner.
Every useful invention, of course, spawns illegitimate use. It was no time at all before we were hearing tales of chip and pin cards being “skimmed” by unscruptulous vendors and subsequently used fraudulently. I was caught three times by such nefarious practices – once for over £1000 – though, happily, I managed in each case to convince the bank that these expenses had not been incurred by me and to receive a refund.
The next revolution, “contactless cards”, though possibly of even greater moment than chip and pin, arrived and was taken up by the public with relatively little fuss because they were already accustomed to paying electronically.
As usual, I was slow to take up the new fangled “tap and pay”. Tigger was way ahead of me and was merrily using her card while I was still paying regular visits to the ATM to replenish my reserves of cash. Eventually, though, I tried it for myself and, as the saying is, never looked back.
As an iPhone owner, I of course became aware of Apple Pay and similar systems by which you could use your mobile instead of your credit or debit card. To be honest, I didn’t see the point. Why use your mobile to use your credit card when you could use your credit card directly? It seemed counterintuitive. I was also concerned that as I fumbled to take out my phone, I might drop it, with dire consequences. I asked a few people who used Apple Pay what they thought of it and all were enthusiastic.
To use Apple Pay easily, it’s best to set your phone to fingerpint ID, another advance that I had not yet tried. Then one day, while playing distractedly with my phone, I thought about setting up fingerprint ID, “just to try it”. It worked well and I have used it ever since.
Having done this, the next thought was obvious: what about setting up Apple Pay? Only experimentally, of course, because I don’t Intend to actually use it..
I was surprised how easy it was to set it up. Show the iPhone your card and it does most of the work itself, including engaging in a quick tête à tête with your bank, and – bingo! – it’s done.
Though I had no intention of actually using Apple Pay, I had to use it at least once, just as part of the “experiment”. I did and it worked. Was I smitten? Not quite. To be honest, I made a bit of a mess of things at first, so much so that I decided that Apple Pay was not for me and firmly put it aside.
Meanwhile, Tigger, seeing my efforts, decided to try Apple Pay for herself and set it up on her phone. She did and she succeeded in using it easily where I had got in a tangle. Seeing this, I decided to give it another go. I at last got the hang of it and yes, was smitten! I now use it for all my expenditure except for the rare occasions where cash is still required.
As I now carry my iPhone on a lanyard round my neck, my fear of dropping the phone while trying to pay has left me and the phone is always to hand, saving me rooting about in my handback for my wallet and then opening this to find my credit card. Gone too are the days when waiters and others would grab the credit card from my hand and insert it in the payment machine themselves, even though they are not supposed to do this. Gone too is typing in the 4-digit PIN. I also like the reassuring ping that the phone makes when the payment succeeds and the fact that the transaction amount is listed immediately in the iPhone wallet.
Having finally caught up with modern technology, I am wondering what advances will come along next. For they surely will. I read that the first credit and debit cards that work with biomettric ID, instead of the fallible PIN, have been issued and the first credit cards without any data – card number, expiry date, CVV – on them, cards that are blank except for the bank’s name.
Wonders are surely just around the corner and I await developments with interest if also with a touch of trepidation.