Crypto Conniptions

By Andrew Vorster
Published on: February 16, 2018

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Today, I had a conniption.

To be fair, it was more of a “laugh-out-loud-snort-tea-up-my-nose” kind of hysteria than the kind normally associated with the word, but it was a conniption nonetheless.

I was watching the BBC’s “Who Wants to Be a Bitcoin Millionaire?” panorama episode when Tim Draper (himself a Bitcoin Billionaire) said:

“In five years you’re going to walk into Starbucks and try to pay with Pounds, Dollars or Euros and he or she will laugh at you because they’ll say ‘wait a second – don’t you have any Bitcoin?’”

Now I’m not here to debate the merits of crypto vs fiat currency – that’s been done to death and the debate will rage for a long time ………


The source of my mirth was the thought that any form of cryptocurrency would be in general commonplace use in a retail, face-to-face environment anytime soon.

Before all you crypto evangelists jump up ready to stone me for heresy, let me just ask you one thing – “have you EVER tried to roll out a new payment system?”

Yeah? How did that go for you?

Having spent nearly 10 years at Visa as the VP of Technology R&D and the last four years heavily involved in FinTech of all forms, this is something I know a thing or two about.

Here in the UK, we have this thing called “contactless payments” enabled on the vast majority of our bank cards. The technology was introduced roughly 10 years ago and it’s become pretty ubiquitous across the UK and much of Europe – in fact a study at the end of 2017 revealed that more than one third of all card payments in June 2017 were contactless. We love our contactless cards – no swipe, no signature, no “chip and pin” (up to a specified floor limit per transaction) – you just “tap” the card and go – and if you’re smart in where you place the card in your wallet or purse, you don’t even have to take it out!

Contactless preceded ApplePay, AndroidPay and SamsungPay and since people are creatures of habit, they are quite happy with not having to slap an expensive phone against a terminal or juggle screens or authenticate fingerprints just to buy a coffee or catch a bus – yes, we certainly do love our contactless.

Now a payments geek like me has to take it one step further. As an early adopter, I wear a “contactless payment ring” from Kerv – wow – mind blown yet?

Essentially, it’s just a contactless card chip that’s been embedded into a beautiful piece of ceramic – which means it works exactly like any other contactless card that I would otherwise have carried in my wallet. Now I REALLY LOVE this ring – seriously, I haven’t taken it off my finger (except to show people how fantastic it is) since April 2017. THIS my friends is the best bit of Consumer Electronics kit that I’ve bought myself in recent years (sorry Alexa …..) – it doesn’t require charging or batteries or anything – it just works.

Well, in the UK it just works ……… and in Europe it works ……. and in Australia it works …… but …….

I was recently out in Vegas for my annual pilgrimage to the geekfest that is CES and I was determined to spread the contactless gospel. After all, I heard that the USA had finally caught up with the rest of the world in adopting EMV chip and pin standards – and it’s the home of ApplePay (a kind of contactless) – so surely I was going to be able to use my ring??

Like I’ve said earlier – I’m a bit of a payments geek and I can spot a contactless point-of-sale device from 50 paces so when I spotted the Verifone terminals at the CVS had a contactless pad attached – I marched right in to make a couple of incidental purchases – with my ring.

On getting to the cashier, I was slightly disconcerted to see a handwritten sign saying “no tap no apple” stuck to the contactless pad …. Hmmmm – but I wasn’t paying with Apple so I boldly said “pay by contactless please”.

What came out of the cashier’s mouth next still makes my head spin:-

“Sorry, our ApplePay only works on a Samsung phone with Android.”


Perhaps she misheard me?

So I said “that’s OK – I’m not paying with ApplePay, thanks – just light up the contactless pad please”.

To which she wearily repeated :-

“Sorry, our ApplePay only works on a Samsung phone with Android.”

I was well and truly baffled now – you see EVERYONE in my world knows that this symbol means “contactless” :-

This is NOT an ApplePay symbol – THIS is:-

So I patiently explained the difference to her – I even pulled up the two symbols on my phone, right there in the shop (I TOLD you I was a payments geek!!) and I pulled out my physical bank cards and showed her that every single one of them had exactly the same symbol on it – it’s pretty universal across my Visa, Mastercard and Amex cards ……

And at the end of it all she said …….

“Sorry, our ApplePay only works on a Samsung phone with Android.”


I sullenly paid with cash and skulked out of the shop.

Over the next few days, I tried, tried and tried again across multiple POS terminals in multiple stores and EVERY SINGLE TIME the cashier would mumble some ridiculous excuse that included ApplePay, Samsung and Android in the same sentence – total gibberish!

FINALLY – in one tiny place selling Pizza by the slice, I had a breakthrough – the cashier happily lit up the terminal and my contactless ring worked its magic – my first (and only) successful transaction using contactless in America. (If you’re interested, you can see it for yourself on YouTube here).

NOW …… we’ve had this technology for 10 years already ……. TEN YEARS over on this side of the world.

Can you honestly tell me that if I walk into CVS in America in the next five years and try to pay with Bitcoin that the cashier won’t say something like:-

“I’m sorry, our Bitcoin transactions only work with ETH on XRP with Ripple on Android using an iPhone.”

or some equally nonsensical bit of gibberish?


Andrew Vorster

Andrew Vorster

Best known for his work as an "Innovation Catalyst”, Andrew is the former VP of Technology R&D at Visa Europe who now spends the bulk of his time tracking changes in TIPS - Technologies, Innovations, Patents and Startups, contemplating the impacts and implications these will have on society, industry and the individuals within. Weaving these into credible and colourful narratives, he inspires audiences and clients to explore multiple possible futures in order to inform strategy and create their own story of the future before they read about it as history made by someone else. Find out more at Social links:- Twitter @andrewvorster / Instagram andrew.vorster / Facebook

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