Many moons ago on the way to Wembley Stadium to watch the Wayne Rooney testimonial (aka an England international friendly), I did the usual and met a mate in a Baker Street boozer before getting the Tube to the ground.
Spirits were high and the football fans were middle-class and not future yob supporters of the European Stupid League and I got to chatting with the bar manager queuing at the bar, because I had NEVER seen so many people pay with their credit cards or other forms of digital payment. Not just young people, but every age group.
At the time I was consulting for a fabulous FinTech company 11:FS and I was going to the game with the founder and his marketing genius, so I wasn’t exactly ignorant when it came to payments and digital banking. But when I asked the manager what percentage of his takings were by digital means, he said 90 per cent. Not just for football crowds; all the time. I was completely smacked of the gob and it was one of those personal moments when you realise there are certain parts of new technology that you don’t really like… as I handed him a £20 note.
I love cash as a means of payment and as I’ve become older I’ve learnt to also respect money instead of declaring war against it when I did in my anarcho-syndicalist twenties when it was all about travel and girls with as little money as possible. It was an attitude, man.
Then in my thirties and in paid employment, there was always too much month at the end of the money etc because I preferred to be paid in cash on a Friday afternoon and couldn’t manage four weeks at a time.
But data-emperors knowing exactly what and where you spend, how much you spend… and also knowing that you can be told how to spend does my head in.
Think music, think vinyl
It’s like having a gambling app instead of going to a betting shop. It’s too easy. You will spend more. You will lose more. Having cash and coins is a human and transactional instinct, not something that goes through the airwaves and it has the texture of metal or paper, so it’s real; a human sense – we have five. Think music, think vinyl.
That’s why I belatedly turned to crypto, the joy of being un-surveyed and all that. Naturally, that’s all turned on its head with the Coinbase IPO as crypto supposedly goes mainstream (or heralds the peak of the crypto bubble).
Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, there comes news of a UK central bank-backed digital currency (CBDC) after the Treasury and Bank of England this week announced a taskforce to potentially set up a digital pound, realising, just as I had at that bar in Marylebone, that things have changed.
Of course, this new currency has been dubbed ‘Britcoin’, following in the footsteps of previous rubbish ‘Brit’ things. I thought Britpop was bad enough as a concept with about two decent songs and Britbox was never going to be a good idea.
Moreover, branding anything as Brit is dumb, as if the ‘British people’ were one entity instead of continually warring tribes from north, south, west and east, city, town, village in constant flux.
So what of this Britcoin? What are the chances of a UK CBDC (say that when you’re drunk) existing anytime soon?
This audience knows exactly what a CBDC is, so I won’t belittle its intelligence by explaining it, but as I see it there are basically two areas; wholesale and retail.
Wholesale CBDCs are for restricted groups such as institutions that hold financial reserves with a central bank (racking my A-level Economics brain here) and retail CBDCs will be digitised fiat that can be used as legal tender and a means of payment.
In the scheme of things, because at present this taskforce is a cliché in many ways, there is not much difference with retail CBDCs if you’re paying for a pint in a pub with a card, the transaction will go through if you have enough money in your account.
Obfuscated to control
As for wholesale CBDCs this is where I fall down, that economics A-level became boring when it came to learning about clearing houses because they and their like seemed like the enemy who obfuscated to control me.
I presume we will see UK CBDCs, probably as a way to reconvert those who have profited from crypto and want to bring that ‘money’ into their control again, but I’m not sure that strategy will work unless our Chancellor decides to requisite all crypto holdings and pay for the pandemic that way.
Perhaps that way leads to revolution, and there’s been too much disruption of late to think of such things. So, today, I will go to a cashpoint for the first time this year, take out some money and go up to Soho from Brighton for a sunny day outside with friends and, as per, spend more money than I can afford… with the cash and coins in my pocket.
So, today, you can stick your CBDCs up your you-know-what because today is freedom and that’s been a long time coming.
I may be some time. Cheers!
He WAS a keynote speaker/emcee/moderator/interviewer at prestigious events around the world until Covid destroyed his conference speaking career… until 2023. He has spoken at more than 200 global events.
He was previously a weekly tech columnist for Forbes in New York, the Telegraph in the UK and continues to write regularly for the BBC, The Economist, The FT and… City AM.