Times are a-changing in London, where contactless banking is king

Busker Charlotte Campbell earns between five to 10 percent of her income from people tapping bank cards on her reader — set up through her phone to debit £2 at a time. (AFP)
Updated 05 September 2018
0

Times are a-changing in London, where contactless banking is king

  • ‘Things are changing in London and people tend to use cards to pay for things’
  • Banks, card companies, government departments and financial technology firms have all been engaged in a two-decade long ‘cold war against cash’

LONDON: For centuries, London has sustained a street-level economy where performers and vendors make a living from the spare change of strangers — but they are being forced to adapt as cash falls out of fashion.
Busker Charlotte Campbell, who sings for her supper almost every day in the shadow of the London Eye top tourist attraction, was one of the first performers to use a contactless card reader.
“Things are changing in London and people tend to use cards to pay for things,” Campbell said, before an afternoon gig.
“That makes busking a dying art if people aren’t carrying cash anymore.”
Between five and 10 percent of Campbell’s income now comes not from coins tossed into her guitar case, but from people tapping bank cards on her reader — set up through her phone to debit £2 (2.22 euros, $2.60) at a time.
It’s a rising trend: a report from the British Treasury earlier this year revealed that cash accounted for 40 percent of all domestic payments by volume in 2016, down from 62 percent in 2006.
The same report predicted its share of payments would fall to 21 percent by 2026 — bringing Britain to the brink of becoming a cashless society.
In January, the government spurred the process by outlawing surcharges for using debit or credit cards in shops, removing one of the only significant downsides to digital payments for consumers.
There are other signs in the British capital that businesses are cashing in by banning coins and notes.
A number of lunch spots in the City of London — the epicenter of the country’s finance trade — now warn customers with prominent signage that they are entirely cash-free. Others assume that card payment is the default at the check-out.
And some street vendors of The Big Issue magazine — part of a charity scheme to lift people out of poverty and homelessness — have also taken to carrying contactless readers to attract passersby who are not carrying cash.
At Christ Church in East Greenwich, in southeast London, helpers still pass around traditional tithing bags to collect donations from the faithful during Sunday service.
But Reverend Margaret Cave has also been recently deploying a contactless card reader to mop up one-off donations from her flock — young and old alike.
“I’ve taken card payments from our 93-year-old member of congregation and some of our much younger people,” she said.
“You know it’s safely and securely going through to your bank account, no one can take it — so it’s much better than having cash from that point of view.”
But not everyone is sold on the benefits of moving toward a fully cashless country.
“The big problems of cashless society tend to be split into three areas,” said finance expert Brett Scott, author of “The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money.”
“There’s the surveillance element, that you can be watched; there’s the financial exclusion element, that you might be excluded from the system; and then there’s a whole cybersecurity question,” he said in an interview.
He said banks, card companies, government departments and financial technology firms have all been engaged in a two-decade long “cold war against cash,” attempting to convince the public that coins and notes are an unwieldy inconvenience.
“In some ways, you can think about this a bit like the gentrification of payment,” he said.
“They’re trying to push all kinds of informal activity or non-institution-based activity into a kind of digital enclosure that can be watched and can be managed by large institutions.”
Authorities are keen to move away from cash as the recording of transactions makes it harder to avoid taxes, as well as to finance terrorism.
But the homeless, refugees and others who struggle to secure bank accounts could be shut out of this new economy, Scott warned.
Recent history also seems to vindicate those with concerns about overreliance on card technology.
In June, 2.4 million British card transactions were affected by a Visa outage — leaving pubs, shops and restaurants struggling to do business during prime trading hours on a Friday night.


Dog reunited with family 101 days after California wildfire

This Feb. 18, 2019 photo provided by Ben Lepe shows Maleah Ballejos reunited with her dog Kingston in Paradise, Calif. (AP)
Updated 26 min 33 sec ago
0

Dog reunited with family 101 days after California wildfire

  • Family members believe Kingston survived by eating skunks, because he hunted them before the fire and smelled of skunk when they picked him up
  • The Akita named Kingston was reunited with his family 101 days after he jumped out of their truck as they fled a devastating Northern California wildfire

PARADISE, California: A dog named Kingston is back with his family 101 days after he jumped out of their truck as they fled a devastating Northern California wildfire.
The 12-year-old Akita was reunited Monday with the Ballejos family, who fled the town of Paradise late last year, Sacramento television station KXTV reported .
“When I found out, (it) just about brought me to tears,” said Gabriel Ballejos, Kingston’s owner. “I’m so proud of him. I can’t believe it. He’s a true survivor, and it’s a testament to the American spirit.”
Ballejos said they never lost hope and kept posting flyers and contacting shelters.
“Every night I would ask my dad and tell him that we needed to go look for him,” said Ballejos’ daughter, Maleah.
The family got a call after animal rescue volunteer Ben Lepe trapped Kingston on Sunday and took him to Friends of Camp Fire Cats, a local rescue group. The volunteers saw a missing dog message there and contacted the family.
Lepe said the dog had been spotted on surveillance cameras and that he set up a trap big enough for the Kingston on Saturday. He weighs at least 75 pounds (34 kilograms).
“When I went to check it on Sunday, there he was,” Lepe said. “It was awesome to see him and know he would be fed and warm.”
Family members believe Kingston survived by eating skunks, because he hunted them before the fire and smelled of skunk when they picked him up.
The town of Paradise was leveled by a Nov. 8 blaze that killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 15,000 homes in the area.
Angel Herrera, of Friends of Camp Fire Cats, said the group has rescued more than 200 lost pets since the fire and still sets traps.
“If we had the resources, we could trap 50 animals every single night,” she said.