With mobile banking spoiling us with easy single-tap payments, are we wise to keep our cash instead?

As I logged into my Mobile Banking app this morning to check my bank balance, I felt a great disturbance in the force. 4 out of the 5 stages of grief hit me. It was evident that there was too much month left at the end of my money. Where had all my money gone?

who spent my money

Disclaimer: “All my money” sounds like I had quite a lot, to begin with. For all intents and purposes, that is NOT true. At all.

But out of whatever I did have, only a small fraction had managed to survive. I frantically checked my statements from payday – those are the only green digits in there, anyway; the rest…all red! All those numbers…what did they mean?

Fuck. Me.

Before it all began…

As a boy, I used to save vigorously, out of whatever little I used to get – rupee by rupee. I even remember the day my savings got to a hundred! I felt so rich that I celebrated…and oh, all the things I wanted to buy… But then, I looked at those crumpled, folded, Rs. 2, 5 and 10 notes – something I’d saved with such difficulty for so long – and didn’t want to part with them. So, I put them inside a book and taped it shut.

nepali notes
Credit: iStock

I’ve always been proud of my ability and willingness to save money. Fast forward to today; I can’t seem to keep track of my expenses.

Also read Adulting 101

What Changed?

Mobile Banking.

While Mobile Banking – the tech that lets you transact from your mobile apps via linked bank accounts – has been around for a while, it wasn’t very long ago that it gained massive acceptance. Prior to Covid-19, mobile banking was used mostly to keep track of your statements, transfer funds, and rare Scan-to-pay features. Most of us were reluctant to use them for bill payments.

Of course, there were Mobile Wallets trying hard to get users accustomed to such payments while competing with each other. And they were also encouraging QR payments – scan a QR Code and make the payment to the merchant’s account with a few taps. But despite slowly catching on, even those working at financial institutions were somewhat apprehensive of them (source: Trust me, bro; I work at a commercial bank).
But then, Covid happened – and all it took was some clever marketing!

contactless payment

Contactless payments. Sounds so…casual, doesn’t it? But combine that with the fear of “touching” during the pandemic panic, QR payments caught on faster than a viral TikTok trend. With this, you don’t have to give or take cash – preventing any kind of hand contact with either party. Simply scan the QR and enter the amount, and a PIN or biometric later, voila! Payment done. The best part? You don’t even have to log into your mobile banking app!

This has caught on so well that, these days, the first thing you ask the stores, restaurants or delivery personnel is if they have ‘Fonepay’ – the FinTech ruler of Nepal – the framework and backbone of almost all Mobile banking apps, and a term ubiquitous to QR payments.

What is the issue?

There’s nothing really wrong with it per se – it’s more like there’s too much convenience at your disposal. If the merchants have got a proper QR terminal (some even keep their own personal bank accounts’ Fund Transfer QR Codes), and you have a sufficient bank balance, you can pay without even logging in directly from the app’s home screen.

And therein lies the little dilemma. Sure, it works as long as you’ve got the cash but when you don’t even have to log in, how do you know when to stop?

Like an ostrich burying its head in the sand, you’re knowingly or unknowingly choosing not to look at your current balance before spending. But how long until one quick tap leaves you with insufficient balance?

Now, of course…we’ve got Buy Now Pay Later features to tackle that too…and to me, it looks like the system is rigged to keep you spending; rigged capitalism and consumerism and whatnot, but I digress.

Yes, mobile banking comes with a host of features (and I acknowledge it) that are fast and secure, making our lives super convenient. And it can generate bank statements that help you keep track of your expenses. Meaning that you or I don’t have to wonder where the money went.

But let me ask you this. When was the last time you made a QR payment and wrote a detailed remark about your transaction? When you check your statements, all you see is the QR terminal number and a small remark, which is sometimes as simple as “lunch”. How does that help me remember? A friend of mine only puts her name on them instead…what does that do?

mobile shopping
Credit: diana.grytsku, Freepik

And again, the major point, here, is not about keeping track of your expenses; it’s about how reckless you can get while spending when you can’t see your money. Letting go can be easy when there isn’t a physical attribute to it. When you don’t even have to log into your app to see how much you’ve got, you rarely get second thoughts on scanning that QR for that pair of shoes you don’t really even want that much.

If instead, you looked into your purse and saw you had some 2000 while the shoes cost 1800 (which you don’t really like), you’d probably think “some other day” and move on. When you’re actually handing over cash, it can make you reflect on what it took to get it.

But this also brings the ‘novelty effect’ into picture – some of us (those who just got started with such digital payments) spend just to experience that “newness” of the process.

It is true that with cash, there are withdrawing and carrying hassles and no statements. But then again, when you aren’t the least bit reluctant to spend your e-money, what good will those statements do you?

This is all but “a peasant’s joke you’re too rich to understand” for those of you with big bucks. So, if you’ve got the cash, feel free to ignore this rant. For the rest of us, you might want to start wondering if such conveniences are spoiling us a bit too much.

The Conclusion

Mobile banking, with its array of convenient features, enables and encourages us in spending our money recklessly…which only keeps consumerism afloat.

If that seems too far-fetched, think about it the next time you’re about to scan that QR for something you don’t fully want just because it’s easy.

Nevertheless, like any other obedient adopter of technology, I have given into its easiness – bowing down to Mobile banking and digital wallets. Yet…I hold my head upright for not giving into a bigger evil – Credit Cards!

You see, digital banking may save your paper and time, but cash may actually save your money.