Sunday, December 21, 2003

Retail Rant

We are quite bemused by retailing in the UK: there's a lot of low-paid jobs (around 5 pounds/hr) and a fierce job demarcation ethic: you cannot persuade a waitress or a cook to take the money if there's a cashier etc. Not my job, you see. A far cry from NZ. And there's a delight in petty officialdom and status in both government and retail. And queuing. We don't do queues as a rule but sometimes they are unavoidable.
The reach of EFTPOS is very small - cash is the norm. It feels very last century. The banks take 3-4 days to clear (transact) even electronic payments: you pay a high premium for 'same-day' transactions (!). Definite lack of competition here. Internet banking is in its infancy - a lot of suspicion (well-founded - read on...)
Back in London, doing a server changeover at a client, I get talking to the Kiwi IT manager and he confirms my low opinion of electronic preparedness here: their equivalent of a debit card (Cashflow etc in NZ) is a 'Switch' card.
I still cannot quite believe this - Switch cards do not have a PIN! Signatures are needed but are widely ignored. So if someone else gets your Switch card, or knows the number (like, you tell them over the phone while buying goods), they have an open door to your account! The banks have elaborate pattern-tracing software and will call you if there are for example transactions in two cities in one day, or an unusal rate of use. But talk about insecure! That's like ringing the stable and asking if the door is open. It certainly explains the hesitancy to wider adoption. PIN's are on the way - but the reluctance born of all the present Switch card fraud will be an inhibitor for quite some time. It takes a certain sort of genius to come up with the notion of an instant-debit card unprotected with a PIN, and the Brits have done it.

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