Things change. Even in places where nothing seems to change, there are always changes.
I’ve come back to Holland, Amsterdam, after another year of collecting passport stamps around the world. Of course I go shopping. Not for clothes or other “objects”. My luggage allowance is 20 kg max, so there’s no space for any extra baggage. I only go shopping for food and drinks, real consumables so to speak. Those who know me will say that that’s nothing new and they are right. The largest chunk of my budget always goes to food & beverages, wherever I am. But in Holland, I buy stuff I’ve not been able to consume during the rest of the year, things you can’t really get abroad, or at least not in the abroads where I hang out. Herring, good wines, steak tartare, filet american, disgustingly bad for your health but fingerlickingly good HEMA worsten, bread… aaaah, Dutch bread, fresh, crispy, golden brown, full of whole grains and seeds, and all those other typical Dutch products that I don’t really miss when I’m travelling, but that I gorge myself on when I’m back in my home country.
And during my shopping expeditions this time round, I have made an astonishing discovery: shops are becoming “cashless”. Some of the supermarkets have converted half of their cash registers to cashless registers. Other shops have decided to ban cash completely. They just do not accept cash anymore. No notes, no coins, no cash. You can only pay by debit or credit card. I can hardly believe it. I have a flashback.
2006. I was heading a huge program for the Bank. We had labelled it “War on Cash”. The objective of the program was to drastically reduce cash transactions and paper based payments throughout the country and stimulate both consumers and commercials clients to only use plastic and internet for money transactions. We had wild ideas like asking retailers to please stop charging EUR 0,10 to customers for small debit card (PIN) payments, offering cheaper banking products to consumer clients who would only do payments via internet banking, we were getting database analysis reports from Marketing Intelligence cross referencing the age of our customers with their transaction behaviour, inventing all sorts of packaging strategies to sell our cashless dreams. We (Product Management) had endless discussions with Marketing and Management convincing them that a cashless society was the way forward. After each presentation we made to the top of the Business Unit, we had to make changes, tone it down, exclude seniors, change the pricing, prepare a new presentation and the whole circus would start again. Shortly before I moved to Singapore, the program was more or less shoved under the carpet. Despite the endless efforts of the team, it was clear that the world was not ready for our vision of a world without coins and notes. Or rather, our senior management did not think the world was ready enough. Or perhaps our business case was just not profitable enough. Whatever they thought, I worked my ass off for 18 months and was rather disappointed that “my” bank did not have the guts to be the front-runner I would have liked them to be. But then again, this same bank supported my move to Singapore so in the scheme of things, I was still happy with my employer.
2012. As I walk into a shop to buy a respectable quantity of bottles of white wine, I notice the sign: cashless shop, PIN only… I smile, I draw my card and I think… told you so.
Things change. I like it.