“Don’t spend what you haven’t got, cash is the king,” was a phrase my father basically lives his life by, I know because I must have heard it a million times when I was growing up. Meaning my credit card is pretty much untouched, I have no payment device on my mobile phone and I have never had an American Express or Diners card.
Of course being a cash only person can have its drawbacks, apart from the obvious one of not having any cash to be a cash only person.
The last time I went to the UK to visit my family we all went to a mammoth shopping centre. Of course being a man a day in shopping centre is about as interesting as a day at the dentists. My sister was flashing cards around faster than a poker dealer in a Las Vegas casino, from a new bra to a large cappuccino, everything was on plastic, she literally didn’t have any notes in her purse.
Wanting to join in the shopping spree I decided to treat myself to a new shirt, but realising that I had a shortfall in my wallet I asked the shop assistant where the nearest ATM was. “Errr, I think there are some near the blue entrance,” she said unconvincingly. Yes, firstly this shopping centre was so large it had coloured entrances so you could remember where you actually came it, there was even a little train that would take you to the entrance. And secondly she looked completely bewildered that someone had asked her for the cash machines. It would appear that my sister was part of a much larger “plastic only” club. When I finally found the ATMs they were almost hidden under the stairs by the toilets. There was no queue at all, and quite possibly dust on the keys of the machines. And yes just three ATMs for a shopping centre the size of Šipan.
When I put my card in there was even a slightly delay whilst presumably the machine woke from its slumber. And to my horror many, many businesses in the UK don’t accept cash anymore. One example is the new football stadium that Tottenham Hotspur FC have recently opened. It proudly boasts that it is a “cash free” stadium. You want a beer, a scarf or even a £1 Mars bar then you pay by credit card or some form of electronic payment.
All of this of course begs the question why, oh why do we need a forest of flashing, brightly coloured ATMs through the Old City. If our most frequent tourists are from the UK, and they are, and Americans who have a similar if not worse love for plastic, are the second mot numerous who in God’s name is using these machines. Clearly somebody is. I mean if the banks and the money exchange office weren’t making money then they certainly wouldn’t install them. And especially when they are handing over up to €2,000 for the privilege of having your machine on the Stradun.
Of course it naturally raises another question. How much bloody money do banks and money exchanges earn from each transaction if they can afford to pay such sky-high amounts? Every time we slip our cards into an ATM it’s like the bank sees the wheels spinning on a one-arm bandit.
Yes, of course the Stradun looks an absolute disaster with so many electronic ATMs, that goes without saying. And yes something should have been done to solve the situation long before it got this bad. I remember, all those years ago, just two ATMs on the Stradun, Dubrovacka Banka and Zagrebacka Banka. But with just two machines I can never really remember having to queue for a long time. Yes, there were less tourists then, but still an explosion from 2 to almost 40 seems a little extreme.
Is there any way to stop the growth? Probably not. But I am also pretty sure that this wave of ATMs will soon hit the shores and die anyway. Cash is, unfortunately, an analogue form of payment and we now live in a digital world. It will be similar to all of these other phases that come and go. Just like the moon, we all go through phases. And now we are going through the ugly ATM phase. As the British would say “Keep calm and carry on!”