Living on mobile money


Rory Cellan-Jones tries living without money

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my frustrating efforts to use various new mobile money applications on my phone. I promised then to have another go, to give up cash and try to pay by phone alone. So, how did it go? Not very well, I'm afraid.

I started by loading up my phone with a variety of apps which - supposedly - would help me get by without cash or even cards. My main weapons were to be O2 Wallet and Barclays Pingit, two new services which allow you to send and receive money from your phone. But I also installed the Paypal app, and a range of others that allow you to buy a coffee or pay for a taxi from your phone.

Within minutes of starting, I ran into trouble. It was my turn to buy the office tea and coffee round, and the coffee outlet only took cash. No problem - I would get my colleague Anthony to pay and refund him via one of my mobile money pay-by-text services.

With Barclays Pingit playing up (I never got it to work, even after deleting the app and going through the lengthy verification system again) I turned to my O2 wallet. Just two or three passwords later, I had texted a £2.80 money message to Anthony.

Starbucks coffee Coffee and taxis worked. Other items... not so much

Then the fun began.

He spent days - quite literally - trying to make sure this and a couple of other payments from me made their way from his phone into his bank account. Much of that time was spent in increasingly intemperate phone conversations with O2. At one point the company told him their "triage unit" was on the case. Anthony's verdict? "No need for triage - it's terminal!"

I quickly realised that although I wanted to rely solely on my phone, this approach wasn't going to work. I would need to use credit and debit cards as well, plus my Oyster touch-and-go card for travel around London.

By paying for meals via my debit card - which meant I had to spend more than £5 - I did manage to get by without cash for a couple of days.

Then I took a trip to Oxford and had my first failure.

Getting on a bus to the city centre without a travelcard, I found myself obliged to dip into my pocket for some coins to pay the fare. And my bus trip proved a timely example of how useful mobile money could be if it were more widely adopted. On a busy route, every time we stopped dozens of school children and students queued to pay by cash, making our progress very slow.

While neither of my mobile money services proved at all useful over the week, there were two things - taxis and coffee - that proved easy to pay for by phone. The taxi app market is now fiercely competitive and I found Hailo, a service that lets you order a London cab, pretty efficient at delivering a driver to me within five minutes.

Rory's bus ticket Paid for in cash

I also tried Ubicabs to order minicabs, and this again worked fine - although my driver ended up asking me to navigate to my destination. These services make it very easy to move around without cash or credit cards - if only in the London area - but they have one major downside. You end up racking up big bills without even thinking about it.

The same applies with the Starbucks app, which allows you to load money onto a virtual payment card on your phone, then swipe your phone against a reader to pay for coffee or a sandwich. Because this was the only easy way I found to buy food from my phone, I ended up spending far too much on cappuccinos.

When I ended my experiment, I breathed a sigh of relief - as did my colleague Anthony, who is still trying to extract from his phone the money I owe him. Trying to live off mobile money, which is supposed to make life easier, has been a stressful experience. The inevitable concerns about security are making most of these new services so complicated to use that you have to be slightly deranged even to bother.

That is not to say the whole idea is doomed to failure. We will see further innovation over the coming weeks as payments firms unveil plans to allow visitors to the London Olympics to pay with their phones.

But here's my advice to the companies pushing these services - your "triage units" are in for a busy time.

Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Matt Marshall wrote:
    "We need the next iPhone to have NFC and have a magical payment system called iPay or something. People will be all over it then."

    Great idea, let's give Apple complete control over what you can spend and where. Every heard the song "sixteen tons"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Rory, on a related subject, you might like to check Shop, Scan, Save - a phone-based loyalty scheme:

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Next week, Rory Cellan-Jones vows to only eat food that has been blessed by the Pope. How will he get on? Find out next week!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    For a time I used to have plenty of credit cards, but I got into serious debt. Nowadays I hardly have a penny, just a basic account and have to pay everything with cash. So whenever I go out, I only carry enough money with me to pay for what I have set myself to purchase. Much, much, much better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    We need the next iPhone to have NFC and have a magical payment system called iPay or something. People will be all over it then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    11. HaveIGotThatWrong 35MINUTES AGO 3. krokodil It all goes Pete Tong if you have your phone stolen.... ----

    And if you have your wallet stolen ?

    True but I don't know about you, but my wallet does not keep my email, PayPal, EBay and online banking details in handy electronic form. Losing either is a headache. But the wallet less so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Cash will always make you more aware of what you are spending.

    That is why banks and retailers would rather you don't use it.

    Cash does not get a flat battery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I use Baclays Pingit - no problems installing or configuring it, & money transfer to/from my account is instantaneous, but only seems of use when transferring money between relatives/friends. My debit card uses contactless payment, but so far I've only found one coffee shop chain using this technology. Let's hope the business world gets its act together soon!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I have always used cash, and only recently started using a credit card. And I only started using a credit card because there was no other way to pay for certain goods.

    With all the scams and fraud, I still prefer cash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    This system of paying people using your mobile phone has been used in Kenya for the last 5 or more years and it works perfectly well. I love it when I go visiting as I don't have to carry money on me. I can't wait for the system to be better improved to the same standard as Kenya for me to use it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    3. krokodil
    It all goes Pete Tong if you have your phone stolen....

    And if you have your wallet stolen ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Interesting exercise but simply shows that it is better to have a variety of payment methods available to people, rather than just one. The Payments Council is key to ensuring that this happens, so that we retain cheques, cash, etc as well as having the "fancy stuff" like mobile phone payments. Personally I wouldnt use a mobile nor purchase one just for the dubious benefits of paying small bills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    From a purely observational perspective it is looking more and more like people are looting the shops in slow motion(electronic money is just a click away?). This causes people to think less about the cost of items, small and large, and so can only push personal debt forward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    So the point that is trying to be made is that you can't pay for everything using just your mobile.

    And equally, you can't pay for everything using just your credit card - so what exactly is your point then, Mr Cellan-Jones ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    The next generation of muggers will be stuck in front of a computer screen, crunching lines of code to access our money. I'm going to miss the good old days when you got to see your mugger face to face out in the fresh air.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    For these things to work they have to be totally seamless, otherwise they're pointless. Like how Oyster cards are just only starting to be quicker than paper tickets (still absolutely no good reason to buy an Oyster travelcard over a paper one, they're slower through barriers, often don't work and you're far more susceptible to inspectors...).

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    At least with cash you know when you have been robbed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Mobiles phones have taken enough people prisoner already, no more!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    It all goes Pete Tong if you have your phone stolen....

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Interesting perspective and experience in London. Back in Nairobi, M-PESA is allowing us to pay most of our bills (electricity, gas, water), some employers are paying their staff via M-PESA. Google just launched an NFC card so the locals are paying for their bus fares through this. I believe we are seeing a revolution!


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