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Banks and the future of technology

... or why were going to be stuck with cash for a long time to come

Gulf News

I hate cash.

I have no problems with money – in fact, I’m rather fond of what little I have - but when it comes to cash, I’d rather not have to deal with it. I have credit cards, a debit card and even a Google wallet. Between those three, I see no reason why I should even need to deal in cash.

So why am I complaining? Because I live in Dubai, and despite my preference for digital dollars, a lot of people here just don’t share it - especially the guy at the donut place downstairs from my gym. He certainly doesn’t take credit.

When I asked, I got a look that said, “Of course not, fool.” What he actually said was the bane of everyone who’s even caught holding nothing but their plastic: “Cash only.”

However, right across the hall from the donut shop is an ATM. Going from a world of digital wallets to one that requires an ATM is just another reminded that sci-fi authors who wrote of a future with flying cars were full it. But somethings you just gotta do what you gotta do.

Now this ATM, it’s just any old ATM, but one operated by my bank. Up until Thursday night, I trusted it. My mistake.

After putting my card in and punching in my pin number, I asked it for cash. Dh300. It first told me that it couldn’t dispense any cash. Then it told me that the ATM was now out of order. Finally, just in case I had any hope left of seeing my card again that night, it turned itself off.

As I stood there will my jaw hanging opening contemplating the fact that I know had neither cash nor card, the machine turned itself back on. What I saw then disturbed me more than a cashless weekend.

The ATM booted up with a CD, something I haven’t seen in years. Then it started loading Windows XP. I’ve never really cared much about the technology behind ATMS. I just cared that I got my cash. But I had to wonder why banks are allowing ATM than run on technology over a decade old to still be out on the street. Try to log into a bank’s website with a 10- year-old browser, see what happens. Nothing, that’s what, because there is acknowledgement that with modern software comes – usually – the latest security.

So why - when I’m forced to resort to cash – does the suddenly feel compelled to relay on technology standards from the time of the Dot com bust. Money is the obvious answer. It cost far less to upgrade a system then it does to replace an entire fleet of machines and unlike an old web browser, an old ATM doesn’t represent a loss to big security threat to the bank. The fact that old machines might be a huge inconvenience to the consumer doesn’t seem to matter.

But before you think I’m just complaining about an unfortunate occurrence, let me tell you about the rest of the evening. I went to other ATM, and used my card for my wife’s account. The machine gave me a “system failure,” whatever than means. I then went to another machine, and got the same result. By this point, I was just wanted to see how far this was go, so I went to a third machine. It didn’t crash or give me a system error. It just ate the second card. Yes, a trip to my branch was in my future, whether I wanted it or not. No explanation why; just a note to call my bank’s technical support.

That in itself was a joke. According to the person who answered when I called, the number on the machine is actually for internet help, not an ATM problem. No, they couldn’t help. No, they wouldn’t take my name or number. Yes, they would transfer me to card service, but no, it was Thursday night, and no one answered. Sure, they could help me with an Internet banking problems, but I’ve never had one of those.

The irony is that I didn’t really need the cash, I just wanted a donut from a guy who didn’t take credit. But instead, I had no cash and no chance of getting away without waiting two working days and then go to the branch to pick up my card. This isn’t how banking or technology is supposed to work. In the future world of next year, according to those who follow this stuff, I should be able to just swipe my phone over a terminal and have my bill automatically deducted from my bank account. Instead, I’m being forced to go my branch because a decade old computer decided to have a HAL9000 moment.

Yogi Berra was right. The future isn’t what it used to be, especially where cash is concerned.