Archive for June 13th, 2022

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Is cash obsolete?

June 13, 2022

This post is the result of a recent article in The Times about a new generation never using cash, and my experience of cashless payments both in the UK and abroad.

I did reply to the article. This post is an expanded version of that reply.

Going cashless

As an older person, I’ve embraced the cashless society, using Apple Pay for almost everything. However there are some glitches. My local dry cleaners accepts only cash – fortunately I’m of that generation that still carries some just in case. Also on a recent drive north, I found with horror that the toll booths on the M6 Toll road are cashless, but don’t accept mobile payments – you have to have a real card! Fortunately my wife had one of hers with her…

There are also some shops which will accept cashless payments, but only over a minimum amount. I assume it’s down to how much they’re charged to process individual payments, but for a full cashless society we must be able to use a card, or mobile payment, for the smallest amounts. Big chains (Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s amongst others) permit this. In my experience it’s the small businesses such as newsagents and cafés which have a minimum payment.

Card, or mobile device?

It should be noted that there is a difference between using a card and using a mobile device (phone, tablet, smart watch). I’ve noticed some people, particularly those of my age, are reluctant to use mobile payments. There are some advantages. The first is that it’s more secure. With a card transaction the retailer may get your card details, but with a mobile transaction all they get is a one-time code from Apple or Google, this means an unscrupulous employee is unable to use your card details for transactions elsewhere. Second, there’s no payment limit. Because this is a validated transaction – with your fingerprint, face ID or unlock code – there’s no contactless limit on the amount of the transaction.

There are some downsides too. First because you’re using an intermediary (Apple or Google) the Consumer Credit Act protection for transactions over £100 doesn’t apply, so you may not be able to claim compensation from your card issuer if something goes wrong, such as faulty goods or non-delivery. To be fair this protection applies only to Credit Cards, so if you pay with a Debit Card you’re not protected anyway. Second because of the one-time code it may be difficult to get a refund if you want to return something you paid for with your mobile device. It should still be possible, but it can, in my experience, be tricky.

Covid’s effect

When Covid first struck in the UK we didn’t know how it was spread. There was a possibility that it was spread by fomites (particles on surfaces) so there was a reluctance to accept cash which might have been handled by an infected individual. This accelerated the adoption of cashless payments, and there are now many places that won’t accept cash at all. This has been accelerated further by the cost of depositing cash at a bank – many banks charge for cash deposits depending on the type of account, so businesses may prefer cashless transactions.

Cashless abroad

The UK has been a laggard in this compared to other countries, particularly in Scandinavia. It seems the Covid effect on cashless payments has occurred in many other European countries including Germany and France.

Denmark has been almost entirely cashless for years… in fact I recently spent 10 days there and could have avoided using cash entirely, but decided to pay for one item with cash to use up the last of my Danish banknotes. Danish businesses have accepted Dankort (Danish debit card) payments for decades; the system also accepts foreign debit cards. But with the march of technology the country is migrating to MobilePay, which requires a Danish phone number… not helpful for foreign visitors.

I use Wise (formerly Transferwise) and have recently acquired one of their multi-currency debit cards, which makes cashless travelling really easy. Revolut offers a similar capability.

Portugal, another country in which I have extensive experience spending money, remains largely cash only. Some establishments will accept card payments, but only with a Multibanco card, which is a debit card issued by a Portuguese bank. Major restaurants and supermarkets will accept major cards and phone payments, but if you’re visiting Portugal, be sure to carry Euro notes and coins – you will need them. Surprisingly (to me anyway) next-door Spain is one of the top cashless countries in Europe according to the Merchant Machine website (although their survey omitted Scandinavia, which in my personal experience is much more advanced down the path to becoming entirely cashless).

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Yet more about broadband

June 13, 2022

As you may have seen from my recently updated post about Full Fibre broadband, I’ve terminated the Full Fibre contract and dropped back to my 80Mb/s Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) ADSL. This has been provided by Sky Broadband for many years – in fact I’ve been a Sky customer since they acquired UK Online to deliver their broadband service.

However it’s got very expensive. My contract expired in May 2022, and Sky emailed me to say that I would now be charged £38 a month! I called them to see what, if anything, they could do. The best they could do was a £5 discount to £33 a month. Disappointing.

So I hunted around. By far the cheapest was Vodafone, which, with a discount because I have a Vodafone mobile contract, offered 80Mb/s FTTC for £21 a month. Attractive but I passed on this for two reasons. First is that Vodafone wouldn’t let me keep my existing landline number, and the second is that I was unable to speak to anyone about this. I tried calling their customer service number, but all I got was a recorded message telling me they couldn’t answer my call and to use web chat on their website.

But Vodafone’s webchat wasn’t working – I just got a message telling me to phone customer service. So Vodafone was binned.

Next was NOW Broadband. NOW Broadband is part of NOW TV, as subsidiary of Sky which offers television services in the UK over the internet using a WiFi smart stick (or, if you still have one, a set-top box). They offered 80Mb/s FTTC ADSL for £23 a month including a year’s free landline calls. And I could retain my landline number. I signed up online, paid the £5 delivery fee for the NOW Broadband router, and picked a switch-over date.

As it happened, we were away on the switch-over date, so I delayed the router delivery until we were back. I was expecting no internet on our return, but much to my surprise it was all working. When I opened the box containing the NOW Broadband router I realised why… the NOW Broadband router was identical to my existing Sky Broadband router in every respect except for the moulded logo on the case. I’ve left the NOW router in the box.

On examining my router logs it’s clear that the Sky service disconnected about 4am on switch-over day, and NOW Broadband reconnected, using the same router, about 20 minutes later. Given that NOW is a subsidiary of Sky, what I’ve managed to do is to connect to the same network, using the same equipment, at the same speed, for £15 a month less than I was paying Sky.

Result!

Footnote:

I had a little glitch as the landline wasn’t showing Caller ID, which it should. I called NOW Broadband and spoke to a very pleasant lady who reset the line, which fixed the problem. I mentioned that I was still using the Sky router. She encouraged me to do so for as long as possible. She explained that although they look the same, the Sky version of the router uses better components which makes it more reliable, and that I should just keep the NOW router as a backup, just in case!