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16 JANUARY 2019
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Thursday, 07 December 2017 09:57
Comment: Revolution ahead, so hold onto your mobile device
Attending a banking conference these days can be compared with the apocalyptic predictions of prophets of doom foretelling the end of the world as we know it.

In fact it is fairly widely accepted, that the world as we know it - in banking, payments, retail, and life generally, is indeed ending. Or beginning, depending on your positioning.

According to Juliet Knight, director of event organisers Marketforce, as she introduced the Money Live conference in London last week, “banking is teetering on the edge of a revolution”.

And revolution is indeed all around us, in the form of new technologies, greater capabilities for data analytics from artificial intelligence, augmented reality and mobile, always on lifestyle apps that bring everything together for us.

That is until you lose your mobile phone, as happened to me the other day, and then believe me, it really does feel as if the end of the world has happened.

So there I was, sitting in a conference on advanced, super-slick state of the art technology and how it was challenging the dominance of traditional banks in ways that could not have been imagined a few years ago, and I was unable even to give my vote on questions posed to the audience. I hadn’t been able to find the venue easily without Google Maps, I had no idea what time it was, when my next meeting was, or who I should be networking with. I couldn’t catch up with the news on the way home, I couldn’t communicate with anyone. I couldn’t even order a new phone. And when I got home to a house without electricity, (it was one of those days) I sorely missed the easily accessible light on my phone to make sorting the problem easier.

All of this led me to question not only how totally reliant we are on our mobiles to operate all the different technologies we now need in our lives, but also to wonder what life is like for those who can’t afford the £30 plus a month to finance this vital piece of equipment. Just as being “unbanked” is a huge challenge, so is being “unmobiled”.

In the future, this reliance will only become more extreme. As more and more firms decide to switch their direct marketing to online and virtual, their plastic loyalty and even payment cards to mobile and their services to the internet, so those outside of this club will be increasingly challenged. This could be so for those with poor internet connections, or those who simply can’t afford to run a smartphone. It also points to how vulnerable we would be to any hack that brought down the mobile phone networks, that is if the bad guys chose this route to chaos, rather than just stealing our data.

So does this article suggest I have stopped being a technology and payments journalist and become an apocalypse soothsayer?  Not yet. Except that just before the big financial crash of 2008/9 everyone was saying that banks were too important to fail. Then Lehmans closed, Northern Rock followed, there were the American Freddy Mac and Fanny Mae implosions, the RBS debacle et al. It is very difficult to get a disaster prediction spot on.

So far, there has never been a major sustained and uncontrollable closing down of telecommunications that has affected our mobile and internet networks for long periods of time. But that doesn’t mean it can’t ever happen, and if it does, our ability to cope without it will be sorely tested. ATMs not working, no online payments, bank systems down, inability for food stores to make orders to suppliers, electricity, gas, water outages, the list is endless. 

In the meantime, if you will excuse me, I have to check my phone.
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