The Future of Money (in a phone near you soon).

In Australia you can buy a shirt with a built-in sun protection factor of SPF 30+
In the US Burton is selling a snowboarding jacket with a built in MP3 player (removable for easy washing), whilst in Singapore researchers have developed a smart T-shirt that can monitor whether you’re fallen over or not (useful for people concerned about elderly relatives who live alone perhaps). There’s even a shirt called the smart-shirt in development that monitors your heartbeat and displays a reading on the outside.

What’s this all got to do with money and banking?  Simple. As money becomes increasingly digitised it will become easier and cheaper to embed value into all manner of physical objects leading to a growth in pre-pay and private currencies. So when you buy a new watch, a pair of shoes or a T-shirt, the sales assistant might ask whether you’d like any money built in (a bit like Tesco asking if you want cash-back, but digitised). In other words physical money is eventually going to vanish, which will create a number of associated problems and opportunities.

Why on earth would some people want this to happen? Several reasons. One reason is that people like intelligent products. People (men in particular) can’t seem to get enough of fancy gadgets and the latest whiz bang technology. Second, all this technology (iPads, mobile phones etc) is filling up our pockets. Hence the term ‘pocket pressure’. Even the older generations are not immune. A recent study claimed that business people are now carrying around 10 pounds more in weight on their person than they did 20 years ago. So getting rid of heavy coins, cheque books and perhaps credit cards could be a good idea.

Convergence is another reason. Put simply, mobile products will soon be able to do or be almost anything you want. Add to this a need for speed and convenience and perhaps a cashless society doesn’t sound too far-fetched?

If this sounds a bit too wacky perhaps you haven’t stretched your imagination far enough. A couple of years ago a scientist in the UK successfully implanted a chip in his arm, which carried a password and remotely opened doors. Dogs and cats are already carry ‘chips’ in case they get lost so why not the rest of us? What if we were all walking around with digital passports, wallets, driving licences and cash implanted in our forearms?

The opportunities this opens up are intriguing. First of all it creates a conversation about business definitions. What business will retail banks be in 15 years hence? Could they become primary technology providers or – more likely – will their importance decline to mere backroom operators servicing the needs of companies like Facebook or Apple Bank?

More practically, such ideas spark off a number of new product ideas. For example, could credit cards be fitted with RFID tracking devices to enable banks to ‘fast track’ high value customers? (Finnair has done something similar with frequent flyers). Or how about finger print or iris recognition software to provide access to ATM ‘lounges’for gold card customers?

Of course you could just ignore all this. In Australia you can already buy a can of Coke in a vending machine with a Coke mobile phone. Coke have also launched a range of clothing. Maybe one day a Coke or Pepsi Bank will sell T-shirts with $50 of embedded value to spend on anything you like from a bottle of sun tan oil to the latest ring tones (downloaded from one of their own vending machines of course).

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