/ Money, Technology

What if you were greeted by an iPad at your bank?

Bitcoins, taken by Zach Copley

With new technology snapping at the heels of traditional banking methods, easier, hassle-free banking could be within reach – as long as we are willing to get to grips with the changes

Although I like to think I know my way around the financial world, I must confess that I’ve always been completely baffled by one relatively new invention – the bitcoin.

I know it’s an alternative form of currency that lives exclusively online, and I’ve read the scare stories about it being an anonymous way of paying for illegal goods. But I have no idea how it works, how you get your hands on it and, more importantly, have never really understood the point of using it at all.

Turns out, I shouldn’t have been so dismissive. In August, the government stated that it was investigating how it can help make bitcoins a safe and orthodox way of paying for items. Apparently, there are more than 60,000 online retailers now accepting bitcoins as a legitimate form of payment and, at the end of 2013, the worldwide value of bitcoins exceeded $1.5bn.

Mobile apps for banking

Make no mistake, new technology is quickly altering the way we manage our money. When our biggest banks published their half-year results in late July, many were keen to show how millions of customers are using apps on mobile phones to carry out banking tasks. In addition to this, Paym, the service that allows you to transfer money needing only someone’s mobile number, has just hit one million users, with £6.5m transferred between accounts using Paym in just the past three months.

Even high street branches are incorporating new technology in a way that completely changes your experience. I recently visited a Barclays bank in London, which had done away with many of the things I’d expect to see in a branch. No cashier’s desk with a glass window and a microphone. Instead, I was greeted by a member of staff holding an iPad, who showed me to a distinctly futuristic machine allowing me to check my statements, pay in and withdraw money, and even deposit coins. The staff are on hand to talk you through how the machines work, and build your confidence banking in what is, admittedly, an unusual way. Similar things are happening with many other high street banks – with iPads in branch, DIY tills and staff that offer as much tech support as they do financial assistance.

Zapp, Weve, Paym

This isn’t going to be for everyone, and banks have a duty to ensure that customers either unwilling or unable to engage with new technology are still able to easily carry out their banking. But with more digital ingenuity coming soon, such as Zapp (a way to pay for goods on your phone without the need to enter card details), Weve (the ability to pay for things by swiping your phone on a payment terminal) and digital cheques, embracing these innovations could make managing your money more efficient and hassle-free. If you are willing, you never know where it may take you – you could be paying with bitcoins by the end of the year.

Incidentally, if you want to know how to get your hands on a bitcoin, you need to ‘mine’ one by solving a complex mathematical problem that has a 64-digit answer, using your computer. And no, I’m still not sure I understand it.


Any currency that is not regulated by a national bank and controlled by a country is open to misuse. I have no doubt at all that Bitcoins are being used illegally-in large quantities for all sorts of nefarious purposes. At some stage they have to be exchangeable, either for goods, “hard” currency or some kind of service offered for payment, otherwise they would exist in limbo and be of no value to anyone. Decisions regarding conversion rates are in the hands of shadowy figures with hidden agendas. In the end they have been invented to make the inventors rich and, maybe will at some stage, attempt to subvert the traditional currency markets. Like you, I believe that the purpose of the Bitcoin is far from clear, but, make no mistake, it has a purpose -one I distrust instinctively.

Why does a currency need to be regulated and controlled by a national bank? Look for example at EUR, XAF, XCD and XOF, which are all supranational. A currency is worth whatever people are willing to buy or sell it for. I welcome a currency that is not under political control. However, I have not yet bought Bitcoin, because I do not yet perceive it to be stable. Once Bitcoin, or more likely its successor, becomes stable, I will consider using a digital currency for investment purposes.

Piano says:
25 August 2014

Clearly the bank makes too much profit.

Any FOSS tablet would be preferable to proprietary operating system devices.

Time to switch.

Whilst the concept of progress is always encouraging I would very much like to know how resilient these systems are when there are problems with power supplies or with wi-fi connection, internet connections, or data storage.

There is a cute site that measures downtime on various companies and apparently Barclay have had 12 outages this year. I hasten to say not nationwide, not necessarily for long periods, and perhaps only affecting some of their service.

However most people anticipate 24/7/365 and have no contigency plans if thye are unable to connect.

Until such time as the Banks are all signed up to a proper level of cover for problems that at the extreme could paralyse the country I remain worried [Miners strike/Russia cuts of the gas].

Finally if anyone follows the specialist computer Press they will be fully aware that most mobile phones can be hacked relativley easily and to add pay functions to hackable systems is not a good concept. As witnessed this century Banks are not at all suited to forseeing the future of their careless profit driven “now”.