In the United States we usually have the power of choice. We have the freedom to choose our elected officials, how we worship, where we live and, as consumers, what car we drive and where we bank. When it comes to the usage of financial services and, specifically credit cards, we get to answer the question, “What’s in your wallet?”
2020 has been a strange year for a number of reasons. Consider its relationship to your buying habits as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. You probably are not making any trips to the mall, and random shopping stops during your commute are a thing of the past (as is commuting at all, except for padding to your home office screen in slippers and jammies). If you do make a shopping excursion now, it is likely to be very carefully planned, with the creation of a shopping list so you can remember to get everything you want and don’t have to venture out again into the COVID-19 laden world of the in-person retail shopping experience.
Let’s talk about how you pay for what you buy. B.C. (Before COVID-19) you had multiple in-person payment options: debit card, credit card, contactless payment (like APPLE PAY), write a check, or use (gasp) cold hard cash. The COVID-19 pandemic has minimized several of these options in our purchasing repertoire, since it is impossible to pay with cash or a check or to use near field communication (tap technology) when buying from a website. When shopping online from home, we have few payment alternatives – credit cards or a third-party payment service like PAYPAL, GOOGLE PAY, APPLE PAY, etc.
Let’s reflect a bit on the trademarks involved when buying something in our new normal of a virtually cashless society. There are the big four credit card networks: VISA, AMERICAN EXPRESS, DISCOVER and MASTER CARD. They’ve each been around for decades and we’re all familiar with (and comforted by) this notice: “We accept all major credit cards.” These are four financial brands which we all know and, for the most part, trust.
These four “major credit card” brands also facilitate the use of digital payment platforms that have become well-accepted such as APPLE PAY, GOOGLE PAY, PAYPAL and other mobile payment tools such as SQUARE. While these financial brands are fairly new, they are in widespread use by mobile vendors and the go-to way to pay used by entire generations (i.e., our “digital natives” like millennials and the zoomers of Generation Z).
But in 2020, what if you simply need to give money to a family member or friend? Let’s say you want to pick up the expense of the Uber you shared last night or pay for your portion of tonight’s happy hour (those examples are B.C., but you get the idea). How do you move money in a pandemic when passing cash isn’t really a viable option? You turn to your mobile device, of course, and use some form of digital wallet. Two of the most accepted brands for peer-to-peer money-sending are ZELLE and VENMO. They are simple, easy to use and – so far – reliable and secure (of course, every financial service database is subject to the possibility of a data breach; another fact of life in our 21st century digital economy). ZELLE and VENMO also share desirable attributes for good service marks – each has a short, non-descriptive, and memorable brand that indicates quality and serves to identify the source of the services. Speaking of “source,” did you know that PAYPAL owns VENMO? Neither did we.
If you thought the title of this article sounded familiar then you no doubt recall hearing it in the 1976 movie, “All the President’s Men” about Woodward & Bernstein, Watergate, Nixon and Deep Throat. We have the late 20th century to thank for many pop culture references to “cash as king” being the way to go: Scrooge McDuck and his Money Bin, the infamous demand, “Show me the money!” from the 1996 film “Jerry Maguire,” the involuntary musical imagery of the 1976 song “Money Money Money” by ABBA, and one of our favorites, the 1973 classic song “Money” by Pink Floyd from its “Dark Side of the Moon” album. At the end of 2020, we are now deep into the new digital economy (so far, five years of ecommerce growth has been packed into about six months of 2020) but Warren Buffett’s sage advice is still always worth considering: “When bills come due, only cash is legal tender. Don’t leave home without it.”