Going walletless in real life

A few weeks ago, on a busy weekday morning, I left for work without my wallet and only realised it about 10 minutes out. And so, a walletless experiment began.

You know all that consumer tech out there that theoretically works and is meant to make your life easier — as demoed in those very glossy and sleek marketing assets — but in the real world it’s partly functional at best? Siri (albeit its ever-improving performance) is still a good example of that.

In this day and age you tend to take all of these novelties with a pinch of salt — but when they do work as intended, it’s an absolute treat. This is one of these examples, it’s about digital wallets.

Image: SUPR SLIM Wallet by Supr Good Co

Now, I’ve never been a big fan of wallets — or any cash, for that matter — which is why I only carry around a simple and very lightweight card holder (pictured above). Before that I was using an even slimmer one that I had backed on Kickstarter.

Until recently, I’ve been fairly skeptical about walletless tech — mostly because, in a lot of cases, it’s still not accepted everywhere, or at least a lot of cashiers simply won’t know it works and just default to responding with a flat ‘no’.

So when I accidentally left my wallet (well, card holder) at home that morning, I decided to run a little impromptu experiment: instead of going back home to retrieve my cards, can I get by today with using just a digital wallet?

Enter Apple Pay

Shortly after it launched in the UK last summer, I started regularly using Apple Pay — but only in some instances.

One perfect example is my commute: you see, Transport For London was already using contactless technology for their Oyster Card platform (sorry, NY MetroCard users!) so they already had the network of terminals. They then rolled out support for contactless bank cards for buses and later for the tube. Other examples are the more obvious ones — Apple Stores and their launch partners (such as Pret A Manger).

However, there are also those other instances. One scenario that was fairly specific to me was caused by my AMEX card — while it worked perfectly with Apple Pay from the get-go, many merchants in London don’t accept AMEX at all and others do accept it but just not for contactless payments. At the time, the only other bank I was using was Barclays, which as of this writing still does not support it.

The day’s expenses

So with the experiment in full throttle, I thought I’d log everything I had to pay for on that day. Could I function as normal, using just my iPhone 6s Plus and Apple Watch, without having to borrow a tenner or two from my colleagues? Here goes:

7:16am: Paid for my bus fare (commuting to work). All good.

7:41am: Tried to get a flat white from Caffè Nero. Unfortunately I was turned away as they don’t do AMEX contactless. Defaulted to EAT, that worked.

11:01am: Got a snack from Pret.

1:37pm: Went for a quick lunch at Le Pain Quotidien.

3:34pm: Popped into the Apple Store nearby to get a new case for my phone. It cost slightly more than the contactless payments limit in the UK, but it still went through — it seems Apple has a few preferred retailers (including itself of course) where the limit doesn’t apply. So you could, in theory, get a MacBook with it!

8:11pm: Uber back home, using Apple Pay as the payment method.

8:33pm: Stopped by Waitrose to pick up a few groceries; I managed to pay with my watch.

The bottom line

All in all — and very surprisingly — it worked like a charm! There you have it. Now, just a couple of things to note:

  • I live and work in central London and I only went to fairly large restaurant or retail chains – many smaller shops or local restaurants won’t have contactless POS machines to begin with;
  • London is arguably the contactless capital of the world, where TfL handles more than 1.2 million contactless transactions every day on its own.
  • I’ve since opened an account with another bank that does accept Apple Pay, which widens its scope much further.

What’s next?

As contactless technology becomes more widely adopted (and the transaction limits increase), more POS machines get upgraded and all the major banks begin accepting it (I’m looking at you Barclays), it’s likely that we won’t need to use physical wallets for much longer, at least not for everyday expenses. And I will be using Apple Pay more and more, if not just for the fact that it’s been proven to be more secure than most other methods.

Image: mint.com

But is there anything else we could see from it? I certainly hope so. UK consumers have long been plagued by the lack of a solid financial aggregator that actually works here— like Intuit’s mint.com brilliantly does in the US (but has failed to get along with UK banks).

Apple Pay already sees all the transactions on the cards you register with it (regardless of how you actually pay), so doesn’t it make sense to start automatically aggregating (with your permission) all of your purchases and lay them out in categories, set budget limits, flag overspending through notifications and so on? We’ll just have to wait and see…

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