BANKS in Britain aren’t noted for their ability to embrace technology: not one of them runs a fully-functioning online service, and it’s as much as RBS can do to get their cash machines in order, despite the £46bn of taxpayers’ money that’s been thrown in their direction.
In America, it’s possible to fire up your personal finance software and have your bank transactions downloaded into it automatically. Barclays and Nationwide used to do the same here, but both withdrew the facility long ago.
However, one by one, the banks are waking up to two services that let you pay for goods without a PIN number, and send and receive money simply by using a mobile phone number.
The first of these, known as contactless payments, is intended for use in shops, garages and at train stations, on transactions of £20 or less. You simply wave your debit card in front of a scanner on the till or ticket gate to have the money removed from your account. The system is already in use on London buses and tubes, but our northern infrastructure, you won’t be surprised to learn, is some way behind.
Your existing debit card won’t work, but it will be replaced before it expires by a contactless one, which will get you up and running without any further action on your part.
The banks insist that contactless payments are perfectly safe – though if your card is lost or stolen there is nothing at all to stop someone else waving it around with abandon. You are protected from fraudulent use if you tell your bank as soon as possible that you’ve lost it.
The second new service is known as Paym (pronounced pay ’em – get it?) and lets you use your mobile phone to send and receive payments to and from people you know. It does away with the need to write a cheque to your gardener, for instance.
You don’t need to share your bank details with anyone, but Paym does require you – and the person at the other end of the transaction – to own a smartphone and to register with your bank’s mobile app. Once done, you can make a payment just by entering your payee’s phone number or selecting it from a list of your contacts.
FirstDirect, Barclays, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, Santander, TSB Clydesdale, RBS and Yorkshire Banks have either launched Paym or are about to, with others due to follow this year.