Smart Cards, Digital Money, Oyster and the Effective Use of a Hole Punch

So Barclaycard (the credit card arm of Barclay’s, a major UK-based bank) is rolling out a new product, Onepulse, which more or less combines a few payment instruments into one card. Firstly, it’s a regular “chip and PIN” credit card, now ubiquitous across the UK. Secondly, it’s an Oyster card. Oyster is the brand name for the smart card system now in use across London’s transport network. It’s a “touchless” RFID card that you can either load with money that decrements with each journey or with virtual tickets that allow unlimited travel over a period of time. Oyster has been around since 2003. The third instrument on this Onepulse card, however, is something new, at least for the UK. It’s called “Visa Onetouch” and appears similar to something MasterCard has rolled out in the U.S. called Paypass.

So why is this at all interesting?

Well. I’m always interested in new smart card technology and how it changes our behavior and impacts our society. I participated in a digital cash trial in Manhattan in 1997 (that famously floundered). I’m an early adopter of this kind of stuff, and I also am drawn to the promise of greater convenience. Convenience was a notably missing element from the Mondex trial in Manhattan (where you had to bring your card to a special equipped ATM and load money on it in order to bring it to a specially equipped vendor so they could schlep out a huge multi-part card reader – for which you would have to use a separate pin in order to buy a 60¢ orange – the glares I got from these people, let me tell you!). The Paypass system, however, isn’t a separate stored value — it’s just an easier way to make regular credit card transactions for low (under £10) amounts. But will combining this contactless payment approach with the Oyster really yield greater convenience?

Like many other Londoners, I keep my Oyster card in a separate little wallet I can take out and wave at the Oyster terminal when I need it, instead of taking out my whole wallet and waving it around in a crowded Tube station. With a combined Oyster-Visa-Paypass card, it seems likely I’d take the same approach, but what if I want to use the card as a regular Visa card? It’s not clear to me how this will all work in practice.

Check out David Birch’s take for more info on the Onepulse rollout, by the way.

So today I decided I’d try it out. I have to say, I’m not impressed so far with the application process. First of all, I am already a Barclaycard holder, so I can’t use the online form (according to very small text at the top of the form that I happened to read). Thanks. Ok I called customer service. After being transferred around for a while, I was told that I would have to “apply” for the card and that they couldn’t do it over the phone so they would have to send me forms in the mail. Is this really the future of digital money? I’ll keep a log here of the process of signing up for and using the Onepulse card.

The real holy grail, of course, is putting all of the above onto a… you guessed it… mobile phone. I know Transport for London is already doing trials on using NFC-enabled phones as Oyster cards (as reported by Card Technology and discussed by Janko Mrsic-Flogel, TfL’s mobile technology guru, at Mobile Monday London last month). Fantasy, you say? The Japanese don’t think so…

One more footnote on this topic. I was out at dinner with a friend in the States earlier this year and I noticed that his credit card had a hole in it, approximately hole-punch size. I wanted to know — was this some new card feature? Turns out that, when he received his new Mastercard in the mail and found that it had a Paypass RFID chip on it, he took a hole punch to it and punched it out. Why? Because, as widely reported and summarized here, there are very legitimate privacy concerns associated with RFID technologies (which is why privacy advocates have generally been up in arms about RFID’s use in machine-readable passports). I figure I’ve already destroyed any chance of digital privacy by becoming part of the Iris program, but I do wonder: will these technologies coming down at us, which are intended at least in part to reduce the threat of identity theft, instead encourage new and smarter methods of identity theft?

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6 Comments on “Smart Cards, Digital Money, Oyster and the Effective Use of a Hole Punch

  1. “. It’s called “Visa Onetouch” and appears similar to something MasterCard has rolled out in the U.S. called Paypass.”

    A nerd writes… actually the European Visa/MC contactless cards are different from the US ones :)

  2. Great post, I had not heard that one about a hole punch before…hammers, slamming the card in a door and driving over them—yes, but not the hole punch. I’ll have to try it. Thanks.

  3. Hey Dan —

    Smart card technology — pretty mature in Europe — is going to take off here in the U.S. as well due to recent technology developments (in a way digital cash, as you noted, never did or will).

    As a Vodafone guy, I’m sure you’re aware of the work Sipex is doing on keypad display modules for cell phones, already picked up by DoCoMo.

    Aveso is doing something along similar lines but targeted at card manufacturers. It will let smart card and credit card makers embed flexible displays on cards using existing production technology, which will bring down the cost and speed adoption of security technologies like one time passwords (OTP). That will make online banking, e-commerce transactions, and even payment for subway travel both more secure and convenient.

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