The Economist wrote an article in this week’s issue about the digitization of money over the next few years and how the U.S. presidents and British prime ministers assigned to new currency may have short-lived circulation (something perhaps well-deserved of our current leader). The EU estimates that it spends $65 billion a year to service cash transactions!! And I’m sure this doesn’t include the $20 bills that fall out of our pant pockets or disintegrate in the wash. This digitization may be one of the most significant advancements enabled by the internet yet. With the added convenience, however, also comes significantly increased tracking of our spending behavior and possibly less anonymity, something that cash provides. This is great for marketers, but not so good for Tony Soprano. Somewhat ironically, Citibank has been at the forefront of the movement from my perspective. I was impressed by the digital subway token called PayPass that automatically debits your bank account which they distributed to customers earlier this year (pictured here). A few months later, they sent me a radio frequency random password generator to login to my business account. I read this week that Paypal is following their lead. For a company that I generally associate with poor customer service and antiquated technology, this was a nice surprise.
Another area that is long overdue for digitization is immigration and specifically, passports. The concept of carrying a little book around with stamps from each country you visit seems completely ridiculous in this age. How much more efficient would it be to create a token or card that stores your personal information in a central database and tracks your every move? America, along with most countries, still issue paper visas that are glued into non-citizen passports. For my upcoming trip to Australia, I applied for a visa online. It was not only granted, but also applied to my passport electronically. When I recently called to confirm my seat assignments (its a long flight), the Kiwi on the other end (I’m flying Air NZ) checked and confirmed that the visa had been attached (virtually) to my passport. That’s efficiency!!