Partying like it's 1999

[Reading time: 3 minutes]

We don’t want your money.

In the last 7 days, 3 different businesses have been unable to take my money because their card machines were out of action. One was a small local café but the other 2 were large multinationals that should know better.

I can’t be the only one encountering businesses who don’t want to take my money.

The empty tables in the café that day suggested I’m not.

Some things change. Others remain the same.

What has never changed: Objective #1 of a commercial business

One of the most important things for every business must be: “When a customer wants to pay us, let’s make sure we can take their money”.

You can have the biggest supermarket in the area.

You can offer 14 different types of strawberry jam and 21 types of olive oil.

But if you can’t take money from customers, the smaller competitor around the corner will be laughing all the way to the bank.

What has changed: How to achieve this objective

“When a customer wants to pay us, how can we make sure we take their money?”

The answer to this question has changed in the last two decades:

  • 1999: A cash register.
  • 2009: A cash register. A card machine.
  • 2019: A card machine. A card machine that supports contactless payments*. A cash register.

There were beautiful touchscreen cash registers in all of the businesses that could not take my money.

For most customers in 2019, these cash registers are as useful as a chocolate teapot when the store’s card machine doesn’t work.

Who is managing the risk?

To reduce the impact of these situations, I have an effective contingency plan: I go to a competitor.

Shouldn’t the organisations have a better plan?

Shouldn’t someone have thought about the importance of these card machines and implemented a ‘Plan B’ that ensures the business can still make payments if a problem arises.

It could be called ‘resilience’. It could be called ‘business continuity planning’.

It is certainly called basic common sense.

Are you partying like it’s 1999?

The issues I encountered may be specific to trends in B2C payment technology.

But there is a broader point here.

As a member of the Board, are you sure someone in the organisation is responsible for:

  1. Tracking external trends
  2. Reviewing the likelihood of problems arising for the organisation because of these trends
  3. Reducing the likelihood and/or impact of these problems
  4. Reporting all of this to the Board

Or are you happy for the organisation to operate like it’s 1999?

* “Contactless payments now make up over 36% of all card payments, and volume has grown by over 50% in the last year” : Ref: Banking & Payments Federation of Ireland – Payments Monitor H2 2019 report (since updated)