By Richard Buckle on

It’s good to be back in the office, where I hope to be able to stay for the next couple of months — most likely, until the ATMIA U.S. conference in Orlando, when Margo and I will take to the road once again.

In recent months, I’ve attended events as a keynote speaker, a presenter and a panel moderator; these trips took me to Mississauga, Ontario; Scottsdale, Arizona; and, most recently, San Jose, California. Primarily, the focus of the events was on payments systems using HPE NonStop as the host.

On each of these occasions, I elected to drive. The time spent traveling by car is time well spent, if for no other reason than to learn how different communities interact with technology — though not always with the best outcomes.

At one point in our travels we pulled into a McDonalds to find almost no traffic in the drive-thru lanes. Inside, we discovered why: “Our cashless is down! We can only accept cash … ”

How our language has changed to reflect transactions today.

Some time before these road trips, I traveled by plane to London. As I always do upon arrival, I stopped at a bank of ATMs to withdraw a small amount in English pounds. The ATMs worked flawlessly, but a machine dispensing tickets for the Heathrow Express was another matter.

After purchasing the ticket with my card, I encountered a problem printing it. Several 20 pound notes had been jammed into the slot where tickets came out, so I freed them and dutifully collected my train ticket. Automated confusion: I feel sorry for the user who obviously had given up and walked away cursing the service provider.

Like many road warriors, I like nothing more than a quick exit from an airport, but I am not always assured of a cashless journey. So, many years ago I stopped exchanging my cash as I left countries I’d visited. Today in my travel wallet, I have a healthy collection of euros, pounds, and Canadian, Australian and U.S. dollars. However, it has been rightly pointed out to me that the increasing value of the U.S. dollar means that the collective value of it all has declined significantly.

In my travels, I have learnt not only how various communities interact with technology, but also how individuals interact with it. ATMs no longer seem to have the long lines of users patiently waiting for their turn, and the when I do see individuals standing at an ATM, they are mostly from my generation. To us, punching in numbers and watching digits flow across a screen seems normal. Not a smartphone in sight.

So I am cognizant now that I am watching transitions on two fronts. ATMs need to stay simple to support one demographic even as they morph to support another. Certainly, the Internet of Things will not be ignoring the ATM, but rather, will help us redefine the payments end point in the 21st century.

An October article in USA Today, “GM pairs IBM’s Watson with OnStar,” described how the auto-maker “reached a partnership to integrate IBM’s artificial intelligence platform into its vehicle infotainment system.”

The real highlight of the announcement came a couple of paragraphs later. “Among the first applications: Drivers will be able to use the ‘cognitive mobility platform’ to locate ExxonMobil gas stations and pay on screen in the vehicle … ”

Apparently, GM thought that integrating disparate systems might be a good idea, going so far as to suggest that, “Through OnStar, a user can download OnStar Go through the AtYourService app [and then] if she or he uses the app to purchase gas at ExxonMobil, or a year of service with iHeartRadio, the payment is handled through MasterCard, IBM and the respective retailer or service.”

At the heart of it, the article said, “GM is trying to build its user base and to learn from users’ purchasing behavior.”

As someone who drives to every meeting attended in the continental U.S., I see some value in this capability. And yet it strikes me that I will still have to be prepared for the apologetic sign that says, “Our cashless is down. We can only accept cash … ”

So perhaps my strategy of carrying a travel wallet stuffed with devalued bank notes has merit after all. I might not always want to get a hamburger, but I will always need to get gas or charge my car.

Payments solutions, networks and end points will have to continue to support a duopoly of plastic and cash, even as our understanding of what a payments end point looks like continues to change.

It might be about wearables, phones, and even cars, however it surely will still be about ATMs. And if there’s an opening that will take my card, I will use it.

But don’t be surprised if you see me checking the receipt opening looking for a little extra cash. Interacting with technology isn’t always straightforward for every community.

Lost in translation? The changing language of transactions