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Taking Payments under ‘Siege’

Paying the babysitter.
Buying clothes at a retailer.
Sending a family member money for a birthday.

Innovation in doing these single transactions seems easy, right? An email, a text, a custom application, an NFC bump, or a personal card reader all work well and ‘feel’ like the future. As SME’s, we’re getting pretty good at making these simple use cases engaging and functional.  Yet there’s lots of work to come on the other end of the spectrum.

Stepping in to work a shift with a vendor at the Austin City Limits Festival, a local food critic found the importance of keeping the lines moving as mandated during  “the siege” between shows.  The only payment solution that the festivals producers would allow? Cash. The beverage stands scattered about the park all allow for swipes, but with only one area for food and the need to keep a hungry crowd of up to 75,000 moving in an outdoor temporary venue, there’s no time to wait for network latency or signatures or failed swipes.  The lowest common denominator still rules. Order, pay, go.

The outdoor festival venue has a unique set of challenges not found at stadiums or coliseums. Stages and vendor areas need generators; telcos bring in additional antennae to support the concentration of phones making social media buzz from one end of the park to another; the entire venue can be washed out.

Will it be possible to take payments reliably and quickly on a massive scale anywhere at any time? There’s opportunity for this to happen. Festival-goers already have an RFID chip on their arm the whole weekend for access control, and there are integrations with randomly scattered readers throughout the park for social media ‘check-ins’ but for financial transactions there’s a number of chasms of trust to cross yet.

Will attendees feel secure in somehow funding their credentials to be used as payment elsewhere?  Will the infrastructure be fast and reliable and weatherproof enough to handle an onslaught of purchases? Will refunds be handled quickly?  If two-factor authentication is used, what happens late in the day when the purchaser’s cell phone runs out of battery? Would the promoters even want to sign up for this additional headache when greenbacks can be stacked and dispensed to attendees using existing technology?  There are some puzzles to solve to keep masses of people fed and headed off to the next show. For financial services technologists working toward a cashless future, the possibilities for interesting integrations and to operate on a larger scale is both intriguing and daunting. 

ATMs at the ready

Banks of ATMs at Austin’s ACL Festival 2013

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