/ Money, Shopping, Technology

What does your card know about you?

Credit cards

Tech is undoubtedly changing the way we spend, but how far should we be willing to go in order to get money off? Is it really worth ‘selling’ your spending data for a better deal?

When the first ever cash machine appeared on Britain’s high streets back in 1967, it was widely heralded as a radical new way of banking – a seamless way of accessing your money 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

ATMs are now an indispensable part of our lives, but 50 years ago some people refused to use them, too suspicious of these bizarre mechanical mouths spitting out cash on demand.

Easy tech… easy money

How things have changed. In the digital age, technological innovations are hurtling towards us at a startling pace. Some will make your life easier – but others may force you to make a choice about what you’re willing to give away in order to benefit.

I’ve been putting this to the test. Over the past month, I’ve been sporting a plastic wristband containing contactless payment technology, uploading cash through an app on my phone, linked to the wristband.

With a wizard-like flick of the wrist I’ve been able to pay for my commute and morning coffee without producing my debit card. I must say, I really like it – aside from the strange looks from London’s bus drivers, there are no more Pins to enter and I can control my spending on the phone.

Personalised rewards – at a cost?

On the other hand (metaphorically – I’m not wearing two wristbands), I recently shared a year’s worth of my spending data to see what could be revealed about me.

Banks are now offering hi-tech reward schemes to customers, tailored personally to where they spend their money. So, if you’ve spent with one retailer – say you buy a morning coffee every day – you may start receiving offers for discounts at the same café or a rival trying to poach your business.

To do this, banks have partnered up with marketing companies, which pore over your spending data to target you with offers. The banks told us they anonymise your spending data, so that you can’t be individually identified.

I offered up my transaction history to a researcher to see what a marketer could potentially find out about me and the results, which you can find in the September issue of Which? Money magazine, certainly made me question how comfortable I am with this latest ‘innovation.’

What is your spending giving away?

I was taken aback by just how much could be discovered about me, especially pinpointing where I live, who I live with (including my cat!) and the company I work for. I realise now that I’m ripe for poaching by a rival supermarket, or could be swayed by discounts to buy more gifts for my partner.

Would you be willing to give up this much information about yourself in the name of discounts and money off? Being a bargain hunter, I’d be interested in receiving personalised deals. But I do feel uncomfortable with marketers having the information to potentially know exactly where I am at a certain point in the week. As much as I love a discount, I don’t want one following me into the pub on a Wednesday night.

Technology has the power to disrupt the old ways of managing our money – now, the once-revolutionary cash machine seems cumbersome. But in a world where your personal data is almost as valuable as your cash, choosing whether to embrace financial innovation is far tougher than trusting the hole in the wall.

Would you be tempted to get personalised discounts in exchange for revealing your spending behaviour?


To do this, banks have partnered up with marketing companies, which pore over your spending data to target you with offers. The banks told us they anonymise your spending data, so that you can’t be individually identified.

If you are anonymous, how can you be targeted?


VickiH says:
7 September 2015

most people already do this with store loyalty schemes like clubcard and nectar.

We must remember that nothing in business is ‘free’ – either the price of the ‘free’ stuff is already built into the cost of products in stores, or the information gained from the loyalty scheme is worth more to the business financially than what they give away to entice you to do it.

In this case, the special offers are either to get you to spend more, or to change where you spend your money. They are not for your personal benefit – there is no profit in that.

I use cards as little as possible and cash as much as possible. Even so, there is probably a good amount of info about my spending habits.
Do I want to hand it ‘on a plate’ just for a discount on something I may, or may not need?
No thanks; sorry but I’m out.

All if which is why I prefer Cash.

I am rather disappointed that despite paying over £10 a month to Which? I do not have access to an article which concerns every consumer but it is only in the Money magazine.

I agree. Sometimes the categorisation of Which? reports runs counter to general consumer interests. I don’t know why a universal issue like personal finance is segregated out whereas many minority subjects are blown up into big issues in Which? Magazine.

I assume that one of the reasons for including this Conversation is to promote the Money magazine. Others promote the Gardening magazine and Which? Legal services.

Yes, one can see the commercial element at work. The side-lining of money, computing, travel and gardening topics into separate publications has been happening for a very long time now. At least there might be some justification in respect of gardening with the increasing tendency of people to live in flats or to have minimal gardens. The same might be said of travel since maybe over half the population don’t go away at all or only once a year. And computing is of special interest to a dedicated and generally affluent community. However, it has often been remarked in these Conversations how unaware of personal financial issues many people are these days and I think, wearing its charity and public service hats which give it so much credibility and authority, Which? should reintegrate finance topics in the main magazine.

That was really useful information Gareth; I remember the launch of Money Which? in 1968 and I did subscribe until it was reintegrated. I had no idea about the two subscription packages at the same price, and I have obviously been on the wrong one [although I didn’t know the legal service was included with the Which? Magazine subscription in Package A]. I shall see about converting to Package B.

That surprised me too. I thought we had to pay for access to Which? Legal. I have had enough invitations to subscribe.

It’s remarkable If neither you nor I knew about this, and Diesel too. I also thought Which? Legal was an extra-mural service that one could either subscribe to alongside a magazine subscription or sign-up to when needing legal support for a particular action [like the recent SOGA on the sofa case].

John – Apparently there are 66,000 members of Which? Legal, so I assume that the service is not included in the membership fee.

We’ve been members of W? Legal for many years, and it’s not free, but worth the subscription cost, in our view.

Ian – As a regular, perhaps you will be able to give us examples of how Which? Legal has helped you – in the appropriate Conversations of course.

Perhaps Gareth will clarify the situation. I am certainly interested in having the Money magazine included in a bundle with the monthly Which?

Thanks Gareth.

According to the promo leaflet that came with my October Which? magazine, as “a valued Which? member” (!) I can have a year’s access to the Which? Legal service for £52 [normally £88].

On the face of it that looks very good and it covers other members of the family. It would be cheaper than faffing about going to the CAB or to high street solicitors. I have not seen any reviews or ratings of its performance. We read about some of the cases that succeed but don’t hear anything about any that go nowhere. With 69,000 subscribers [or 66,000 depending on which page you are on in the website] there is an income of £3-5 million, which can pay for a lot of lawyers even allowing for establishment overheads and profit.

Which? Money is £36 a year for a monthly magazine on top of the £119.25 [1st year] for the general Which? magazine [£129 subsequently]. There are no first year or Which? membership discounts or trial offers. I have seen no reviews or subscriber feedback on its value and on the extent to which it is better or goes further than the articles and features that appear in the weekend newspapers.

John – For £1, anyone can have a one month trial of Which? including access to all the information available for members. That’s not a bad trial offer.

Yes. I included that in the first year’s price for the general magazine. There is no trial offer for the Money magazine. I didn’t make that clear enough in the final paragraph.

Interesting strategy. Maybe it’s a secret test to see how free Which? members are with their money on subscriptions? :-))))

There is a significant overlap between Money? and Which? = the latter with a money section. in Sept Which? has Bank Mis-selling, Car insurance, Car insurance fees. Money has Cut the cost of healthcare, Bank reward schemes (and giving away personal information). Since a good deal of Which?s reports including things that are purchased – with money – it is hard to see a dividing line between, or the need for, the two publications.
One cynic suggests it is to increase revenue. Perhaps one of the publications could report on this (but Which? one?) 😐

There is a balance to be struck between convenience and risk. Ignoring, for a moment what the banks and others, get out of it, one has to decide whether the financial benefits, of being able to transact quickly and simply by touching and swiping things and by banking on line, outweigh the risks that others can also touch and swipe things with your details by accessing the equipment you use to do this. Likewise whether they can hack into your computer for banking details or get them from the bank by the same means. I am not afraid of new technology but avoid it for two reasons. Firstly the more one has the more there is to worry about and secondly, the actual act of paying for things is not something that that I find difficult or need to speed up doing. I can see the need for Oyster cards and the like, when payment is difficult any other way, but these are usually chargeable and one knows how much each card has on it and how much can be lost through mis-use. Many people bank on line and swear it is safe to do so, I’m not one of these. The less personal detail I share on line and keep on my computers the happier I am. Again, I have no trouble with the old fashioned banking activities and see no need to modernise.
Banks and other organisations have no right to share my personal details around for financial gain and without my consent or my knowledge. Supermarkets checking what I purchase is close to the limit of acceptance too, especially since they do it for their own purposes and pretend that it is to help me. Philanthropy is not the name of that game. When there’s money to be made, it is going to be difficult to prevent personal detail sharing unless it becomes illegal and enforceably so. I can’t see that happening any time soon. Thus it pays to keep under the radar as much as possible and keep the thieving wotsits guessing.

My worry about contactless cards, rather like credit cards, is that they make paying too easy. They tempt you to buy stuff which you otherwise might not if you thought about it and had to part with real money (or even a cheque). So we end up fueling unnecessary debt. However that seems to be the way the world’s economies have always worked. It is, as has been said, about achieving a balance.
We should keep any credit cards out of irresponsible hands – those who have a poor financial history for example. With such high APRs of course it is we who fund the defaulters, not the banks, so it is in their interests (literally) to give card to all and sundry (or so it seems to me).