There used to be a campaign in the nineties for a charge card which challenged customers to find any transaction point where their product was not accepted – and ended with a tourist swiping the card at a public toilet in Europe!
Further back in time, when the digital money revolution was taking baby steps, I recall an advertisement for ATMs, where the customer wishes the machine a ‘good morning’ and thanks it for its efficiency.
Those were early days and we were quickly enamoured by slick and witty advertisements. Gradually, as the digital economy took off, we started expecting more from our credit cards and payment channels.
Today, millennials rarely step into banks, preferring to manage most of their financial transactions on their devices and even Gen-Xers like me have been quick to adapt to the benefits of paying from our smartphones.
Bahrain has been pretty quick to make electronic and digital payment channels available at most levels. You can fill up petrol, shop for groceries, pay government bills, pay for life-saving surgery and life-altering fashion with a tap on your phone app.
We even have supermarkets accepting payments in cryptocurrency – although it’s early days yet and I haven’t seen people queuing up to pay for their detergents and veggies with bitcoin.
There has certainly been an expansion of digital money management and growth methods and with the global rise of robo-advisers and AI investing, Bahrain, as a financial hub, will probably soon see a dramatic paradigm shift towards a digital-first money management mindset.
Yet there are gaps in the everyday system where the tap-and-pay process fails. Not in the million-dollar corporate transaction but at the street corner level.
As somebody who frequently has to visit crowded Manama streets, I have to ensure that I always have ready change to feed the parking meters. Why can’t the meters simply be tuned to digital payments? They accept cards and phone payments in manned parking lots across Bahrain so the technology can be tweaked, surely? Think of how convenient it would be to just tap your card or pay by scanning a QR code on the parking meter. And, if you have booked a half-hour slot and your meeting gets extended, you just have to tap the QR symbol again instead of interrupting your official discussion and rushing to shove change into the machine.
When researching for this column, I found that many countries are embracing a no-cash lifestyle faster than others – the Netherlands and Sweden use digital transactions for 98 per cent of their commerce. Just like businesses and services risk becoming obsolete if they don’t offer digital payment options, countries too can be left behind if they don’t join the race.
Before mobile phones became a part of our anatomies, remember we used to save up 100 fils coins for public phones?
I’m sure the year is not far when we’ll be saying nostalgically that we used to save coins for parking meters.