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.