Since we’re in a new year, I think it’s time to make some travel predictions. This year I’m going to make two: The end of money and an update to traveler profiles.
The end of money
…but not where you’d think.
Who uses cash anymore?
Mostly in 3rd world countries where I worry about credit card fraud, do I pay for everything, including the hotel in cash. In a recent podcast Steven Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics noted that cash is on the way out and while continues continue to print cash (mostly out of nostalgia as a symbol of national pride), we will see less and less of it.
So while this is not a bold prediction, I’m going to add some weight to my crystal ball divination: This trend away from money will happen first… in Africa.
So why there?
To fully paint the picture and back up what I see in my crystal ball, I will cite four trends that point towards the dark continent leading the trend towards the end of cash.
- The upward trend in crypto-currencies: Bitcoin made its way into the public view in 2009; however, they are not alone: More cryptocurrencies, like ZCash are jumping into the fray every day. As the options grow, the value of virtual money also continues to rise, indicating an increase in usage, either due to the ease of transferring cash, mistrust in governments, avoiding exchange rates in volatile countries like Venezuela or because of the security offered by the services.
- The move away from cash: Is cash still relevant? Some, like Dubner, are asking why we continue to use cash at all, especially given that cash facilitates tax evasion, corruption, counterfeiting and other illicit activities. To fight corruption and counterfeiting, India recalled all of their two largest notes and re-issued clean versions, not an easy task, given that 90% of transactions are cash-dependant. Even in minimally corrupt countries, credit is king – personally, I noticed a trend away from cash in Scandinavia, at times having bills returned in even the most innocuous of places – like a wonton shop in Gothenburg, Sweden.
The technology is there: In places like Japan, the technology is available for individuals to pay for even small items like a soda using only their phone. Obviously, we already have virtual wallet options (Google Wallet, and Apple Pay) here in the U.S.
- Technology jumping and willingness to change: In Africa, a large portion of the population already have cell phones and are familiar with transferring money to others via credits purchased for their devices at a local phone store. Since adoption is often the biggest hurdle when implementing a shift in habits over a large population, the fact that many are already comfortable with the act in Africa, it’s not a hard sell to make the jump to performing the same act, but doing so via connected bank accounts and encrypted transactions.
In sum, the availability of the technology, the prevalence of counterfeiting and other cash facilitated crimes, the uptick in secure digital currency and the familiarity with sending money via cell phones already creates the perfect storm for a full shift away from cash in Africa.
What do you think? Do you agree?
Prediction 2 – Customer Profiles
Professional prognosticator Johnny Thorsen, also the director of value solutions at SAP mobile services, former owner of Contgo and Director at Concur gave a speech at the Association of Corporate Travel Executives last year in Denver. One of his main predictions was the end of multiple traveler profiles. As he put on his ‘fedora of future’ he claimed that travelers would soon take back their information and create a universal traveler profile that they alone maintain. Travel service companies will access the accounts when you travel and you will control how much information they are allowed to access. Private profiles will make traveler preferences (window vs. aisle, food restrictions, or fluffy vs. firm pillow) a one-time entry and more importantly, keep your information more secure. After hearing Johnny speak, I added up all the different travel profiles that I currently maintain.
Hold onto your hats; this is going to get weird.
Car rental: 1
Total accounts: 23!
So basically, I created a customer profile on 23 different sites. Put another way: I took the time to fill out all the information twenty-three separate times. From a security standpoint, each of these sites maintains a file on me – and I have no idea how secure my data is on their sites. Granted, I don’t put an incredible amount of information in the profiles, but it’s more than I’d want floating around the interwebs.
There you have it, my two, big, hairy audacious predictions:
- Shifting to a primarily virtual currency would make for an easy way to pay for almost anything while on the road. It also presents new travel safety challenges – for instance: What happens if you lose your phone and no one accepts cash? What sort of backup options would you have in case of an emergency?
- Information security is on our minds more and more lately – partly from realizing just how much of our data is floating around out there and partly from each data breach that reminds us that the companies that store our data are not infallible. Taking control of our traveler profiles would not only lift the responsibility from these companies, but it would also allow a seamless and straightforward customer service experience – since you control the data.
Stay tuned, and at the end of the year, we’ll revisit to see if my predictions are taking shape, or totally off the mark.