Monday, December 16, 2013

Electronic Money – The World has Changed

There once was a time that “Cash was King.” It was acceptable in any transaction up to any amount. When buying a car back in the day, someone might take more than ten thousand dollars with them to pay for the transaction. Paying debts with large amounts of cash was not uncommon. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, there were only three ways to pay for something; cash, check, or a wire transfer. The popularity of charge cards had not begun.

In the 1960’s charge cards or credit cards became a normal part of our financial world. Now we had a fourth way of paying for our wants and needs; a credit card. “Buy now and pay later” was the motto of many back then. It was a popular option for those with limited cash, as credit cards allowed them to purchase expensive items and pay for them at a modest interest rate over time. Credit cards changed the way we looked at cash. Cash dollars were no longer a necessity in a transaction.

The 1970’s and the introduction of the ATM was what really set us on the path to electronic money. An ATM made it possible for someone from out of town to get cash from their account without having to write a check and show several forms of ID to get it cashed. They could go to the ATM of the nearest bank and, for a small fee, access their account and get up to several hundred dollars from their account. They did not have to go to the ATM of their bank. Banks would exchange the money electronically between them to settle the transaction.

After the ATM card, came the ubiquitous debit card. The debit card was originally created by a Frenchman, Roland Moreno, in 1974. EFT/POS (Electronic Funds Transfer/Point of Sales System) or the debit card system as it is popularly referred to, changed how we all exchange money for goods and services. Suddenly, if we had the cash in our account, we could pay for any item if the merchant accepted EFT. Cash money was no longer a required part of monetary transactions. In 2011, only 27% of transactions were of the cash type and it is expected to drop to 23% by 2017. Another number that is expected to drop is the use of paper checks for payments; only 7% of transactions in 2011 involved a paper check.

There are convenience stores and other markets that are refusing cash and moving to 100% EFT transactions. Considering that merchants must pay a small fee for each transaction, why are we going to 100% EFT?

For years, checks were the way we paid for things when we did not have the cash readily available. That system worked just fine but it had pitfalls. What were the dangers of accepting a check?

·         It took several days for a check to clear. Prior to electronic check clearing in the late 80’s, it took even local checks seven days to properly clear. An out of state check would take two weeks !
·         We never knew if the money to pay the check would be available on the date the check cleared.
·         Once the check “Bounced” back to us, it would take a couple of days to get the check back to us. Taking time away from recovering on the bad check.

Checks could be stolen, duplicated, or altered. If a merchant took a bad check, the merchant paid for it and took a loss. With electronic transactions, particularly with PIN style transactions where the accountholder must enter their PIN code in order to complete a sale, it gives the merchant much more confidence that the person processing their transaction is not a fraud. Electronic transactions reduce the amount of fraud losses for merchants.

In a few years, paper checks will be a thing of the past!

Happy Holidays to everyone! Stay safe this season.