I want to talk about something that ranks up there with paper as a thing I really dislike: wallets.
I don’t say this lightly. I really do not like carrying my wallet. When I carry it in my back pocket, it is uncomfortable to sit on. When I carry it in my front pocket, I look nerdy. When I carry it in my suit jacket pocket, one side of my chest sticks out like a tumor.
Wallets are awful things.
In my quest to minimize the impact of my wallet on my life, I had to make it thinner. In order to do that, I had to look into my wallet to see what needed to move to digital. First, an inventory:
A total of 18 cards and some cash.
It didn’t seem like an onerous task. I simply had to get rid of just two things: cash and cards.
Cash was easy. I carry a minimal amount of cash day to day. Less than 1 millimeter of cash. Very thin. I carry so little cash because I have access to electronic payments. With a plethora of debit terminals available, a personal obsession with online shopping, and a love of credit card reward miles driving my purchasing behaviour, you can be sure that I am a significant user of electronic payments.
The problem with using electronic payments in most parts of North America is that you need to carry a card of some sort – credit or debit. Usually I have to carry both. So ironically in my quest to thin out my wallet by avoiding cash, I have in fact thickened it up with cards.
So I had to get rid of a bunch of cards.
This was the hard part of my move to the paperless wallet.
Most of the cards in my inventory have an important role to play in my day-to-day life. I need access to them. But, could I move them paperless?
I took my inventory of cards and put them into two categories: cards that represent a financial account and cards that confirm identity.
You can argue that something like a Costco card makes a financial transaction (you can’t buy at Costco without it), but it is not linked to a financial account. They simply want to confirm your identity as a Costco member before letting you do a financial transaction with them using one of the financial account cards (argh, two cards to do one transaction).
A thin wallet (or no wallet) means that the cards in the wallet need to go digital. Period.
So I embarked on a quest to move all 18 of those cards to a digital format. At 1 mm per card, I have 18 mm of cards in my back pocket. 1.8 cm. Almost an inch.
I have discovered that my quest to move to a paperless wallet is proving to be a difficult journey.
Here are some of the wins and losses to this point.
So in the wins column, I have removed 11 of the 17 cards out of my wallet. 11mm of bulkiness gone. I love it.
So in the losses column, I still have 7 of the 18 cards in my wallet. 7 mm of awfulness. Don’t love it.
My reward to myself for getting much of my wallet into the digital space was . . . a new wallet. Searching reviews on the internet brought me to Bellroy – the world’s thinnest wallets. I chose the Slim Sleeve unit in black.
Now that I had a new slim wallet, fewer cards, and a little cash, it was time to start using the paperless wallet system.
All of my former cards were replaced by one of three digital systems:
I evaluated the risk of using these three systems from the bottom up.
If I memorized a card number, it meant that I would likely never need to produce the actual card but often had to produce my number on the card (like my social insurance number). If I was able to use a proxy like my phone number to verify my account, again I would likely never need to produce the actual card. Very little risk in system number 3.
If the card was replaced by a smartphone app, the vendor was very much on my side, supporting my desire to go paperless. Again, very little risk in system number 2.
The big risk was in system number 1: taking photos of cards that I might have to produce.
Testing that strategy has proven interesting. Generally, most vendors or agencies are happy to use a photo version of the document. My doctor, my dentist, my insurance company, and my favorite hotel were all willing to use photo versions of documents to process transactions. Very excellent.
I have a sense that more and more people are using photos of cards in lieu of the actual cards to conduct transactions. Fewer clerks and receptionists seemed surprised when you present your “card” using a photo on your smartphone. They really just want the account number from the card, and if the photo provides them the necessary information, they are happy.
A huge win occurred as I updated the license plate registration on my car. I needed to provide a proof-of-insurance document in order to get my license plates. I had misplaced the original document, so my insurance company emailed me a temporary one. Instead of printing it, I decided to test my paperless document strategy (OK, I did have a printed copy deep in my bag just in case I was asked to produce a physical version of the document).
When asked for the insurance document, I handed over my smartphone with the document open on the screen. The clerk at the motor vehicles branch simply typed into her computer the insurance policy number and we were done.
Incredible. A government registration process supported by digital documents. Awesome.
My only hiccup to date came this past weekend. I was at the hospital to look after a small injury I had sustained and was asked for my government health identity card. I produced my smartphone and showed the clerk a photo of my card.
She sternly berated me, barking that “you can’t use a photo of your health card for identification purposes!”
I pleasantly indicated that I have identification in the form of a driver’s license to confirm my identity. It is in paper form, genuine, and has all my personal details. I removed the 1 mm of plastic from my nice thin wallet and showed it to her. I then explained that the health card photo was merely to provide my health number for the file.
That seemed to satisfy her concern and we proceeded to finish the paperwork. A close call, and one that says we still have work to do in our transition to digital.
The digital wallet has come a long way. Photos of cards seem to satisfy a large number of vendors and agencies. This is a good thing. For me, OneNote keeps it all organized and at my fingertips.
The payment systems are WAY behind in North America. Asia is light years ahead, with millions of purchases being made with smartphones every day – even from vending machines.
Until that all gets sorted out, I am forced to carry 1 mm of cash, 4 mm of payment cards, and 1 mm of Costco membership. 6 mm of stuff to ensure that I can purchase and pay for the things I need.
However, I believe that within the next 18 months we will see real momentum behind the adoption of mobile payment systems in Canada and the USA.
Until then, I will have to keep the thing that is the pain in my butt – my wallet in my back pocket.