Visa card issue puts brakes on drive towards cashless society

Cantillon: Firm’s system failure likely to be a bit of a setback for the banks

A  Visa card outage caused problems for about 10 hours on Friday. Photograph: Martin Keene/PA Wire

A Visa card outage caused problems for about 10 hours on Friday. Photograph: Martin Keene/PA Wire

 

If someone wanted to put the brakes on the seemingly inexorable drive towards a cashless society, they could not have done better than shut down the network of the most common debit/credit card in the State.

Congratulations Visa. A dearth of information about what was going on during what appears to be close to 10 hours of disruption across Europe and an, at best, passing apology will only have given people more pause for thought as to whether it really is a good idea to bet everything on that little piece of plastic doing the business.

It is certainly likely to prove a bit of a setback for the banks. Their lobby group, the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland, is among the main cheerleaders for the phasing out of cash. In a recent payments monitor, the group bemoans that, while card usage is growing fast, “assuming current trends continue, we estimate it will be at least 2020 before payment cards overtake cash in Ireland”.

“We have much further to go,” it warns. It might have further yet.

“If you attempted a Visa transaction that did not complete as a result of this issue, you should not be charged,” Visa Europe said in a statement. But, of course, you still would not have the family dinner to take home unless you had cash on you.

Cringing embarrassment

Worse still, you might already have consumed a service – a car full of fuel, a fine restaurant dinner enjoyed – only to find yourself unable to pay the bill.

Either way, refusal of payment is a cringing embarrassment. Hopefully Visa chief executive Al Kelly’s apology for any “inconvenience this may have caused” will make people feel better about the whole incident.

There has for some time been a counter-movement – even among our electronic-friendly Scandinavian cousins – suggesting that cashless is not necessarily all it is cracked up to be, particularly for older consumers who are less adept at dealing with computers, multiple PIN numbers and the like.

Maybe it would be wise to heed the advice of two bankers Cantillon ran into over the weekend.

“Always have two forms of payment on you,” suggested one. “I’m a banker,” said the other. “I always carry cash, precisely because I know what can go wrong.”

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