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E Pluribus Unum and Change

New Penny
New TailPayPal gives Home Depot the Finger
PayPal gives Home Depot the finger. (A good thing.)

I don’t like clutter in my car. So after a family trip, a penny in my cup holder stood out along with a straw wrapper. Kelly’s milkshake.

I did not recognize the tail-side design. The familiar Lincoln memorial had been replaced by a thirteen stripe shield bearing “E Pluribus Unum.” Out of many, one.

I missed the change. (Get it?)

I think I missed the change (circa 2010) because I have gotten away from change. The two places where I used change most were the office lunch room cafeteria and the office vending machines. The former takes cash and checks, so to quit accumulating change, I went to checks using a secondary free checking account from Ally. Checks have gotten very efficient to process, getting converted quickly from paper to digital. Family checks are now deposited at the kitchen table using an iPhone or iPad. However, I doubt Ally is making much off my lunch money.

The second place I used change was our office vending machines. A little over a year ago, our vending machines got cellular antennas and magnetic / RFID card readers. The prices went up to fund the change, so my number of transactions went down, but I’ve been tapping my Amex smart chip ever since. No change.

These checks and these RFID card readers cost merchants money. There has been resistance in the U.S. to install new RFID equipment when “swiping” plastic works fine. What problem does tapping really solve? I think it solves the problem of card reader salesmen quotas.

Enter PayPal at Home Depot. I spotted PayPal at Home Depot just last week. What do I need? My finger, my phone number, and my PayPal pin number. I don’t need anything plastic, magnetic, paper, leather, and I don’t need a phone.

I don’t need batteries. My finger runs on food from the cafeteria and the vending machines.

What equipment do the merchants need to install? Nothing. PayPal ties into existing PIN pads. No RFID readers, no phone readers, no squares, and no triangles. It’s low tech. It’s simple.

There are a lot of companies and a lot of technologies out to transform the payment landscape: Square, Google Wallet, Apple’s iWallet, CashEdge, and even my company’s own DPXPay. But will PayPal’s simple finger, no battery, merchant-friendly approach beat them all? E Pluribus Unum? Out of many, one?

Guest blogger Jeb Cashin counts pennies at Harland Clarke by day… and often at night.

A note from Bob Williams – I’ve known Jeb for about 15 years and we share a common employer. He’s been a colleague, an internal customer, and my direct manager during that time. Many thanks to him for providing this thoughtful and entertaining look at the landscape of payments.