/ 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?


Hi Alfa. It’s quite a complex process, but generally, this is what goes on behind the scenes. The banks have partnered with marketing companies, who are working on behalf of retailers looking to attract new customers by offering discounts. The marketing companies analyse your spending data based on criteria including how much you spend, where you spend it and your lifestage. Your spending data is anonymised by the bank when it is sent to the marketing company, by removing your name and account details, replacing them with an ID number. If you match the criteria the retailer is looking for, this will be relayed to your bank via the marketing company, and you will be offered the discount. Retailers never see your details. Instead they’re fed statistics about how many banking customers meet their criteria, and how many subsequently take up the offers.



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