The Mondex Card

By Chris Chadwick

Originally published in EUG #25

Have you all heard about "Mondex"? It is a smart card being piloted in Swindon that offers "cash on a card" and is the beginning of the cashless society! Why Swindon? Well, the banks reckon it's representative of the UK as a whole. Crumbs.

What you get is a credit card size piece of plastic with an embedded 1cm square 'chip' that carries 'cash' credits up to £50.00. You take this to the shop, select your goods and hand over the card as payment. Whereupon the shopkeeper deducts the 'cash' from your card and banks the money at the end of the day offline.

Note it is not a credit card. You have to transfer cash to it from your bank account. This you can do at a cashpoint of your bank, or at an adapted payphone (and they nearly all are, BT are in on this with Natwest and Midland) OR using a BT screenphone adapted for the purpose. No more standing in cashpoint queues, making friends for life and thinking "What do they spend it all on?"

The advantages of Mondex are as follows:

  • You don't have to carry loose change with you
  • You always have the right money for the bus, payphone or carpark
  • No more queuing for cash

And that, as far as I can see, is it.

Mondex, apart from being the bestest gadget since the last one, offers no substantial advantage for me as the customer. It is, of course, a scheme by the banks to get out of the secure cash haulage business that costs them a forture for no (apparent) direct return.

Where I thought it would work for me, on the buses, has proved to be a big disappointment. It takes so long to take the money! Even without the right money, it takes about ten seconds to pay for and collect your bus ticket. With Mondex I'm waiting nearer thirty seconds, while a bus-load of people sit there staring at me thinking, "Come on, come on! We're late already!!" There's no obvious reason for the delay - it occurs AFTER the bus driver has typed in all the info. Mind you, the modern bus driver has more technology than a fighter pilot.

Mondex is being piloted in Swindon. Nowhere else. I spend a fair amount of time out of town and I might as well try and use Monopoly money as pay by Mondex. Just to add to the confusion, not all the local shops take Mondex: Marks & Spencer for one. This lack of universality, even in the pilot area, is a big drawback.

I "won" my Mondex in a competition in the local rag. (Seriously, the prize was a Mondex loaded with £10.00 and some vouchers, second to tenth prize missed out the vouchers; the competition was run for about a week). Otherwise I might not have bothered with it, but I'm glad I did. Not because I think it's a good idea - I don't - but because in piloting it, they have been handling out the associated gubbins like Smarties (Joke, ha ha!). The BT screen phone is probably a fortune to buy and not much less to rent, but it's mine on a free loan with all its toys on top of the Mondex attachments. These allow you to transfer money to/from your bank, pay by 'cash' or transfer 'cash' to another Mondex user - by phone.

There is an associated "wallet" that allows you to store up to £500 Mondex cash, transferable to any card, for which they are already charging £3.50 a month. I have not opted for this because it's a trial after all, and I'm not going to bear any cost of it. Having seen one, I'm not sorry. There are going to be Mondex points (where you can transfer 'cash' onto your card) all over the shop. Literally. You'll be able to agree the price and go get the money in the store. The £50 on-card limit is irking however: a week's shopping can easily exceed it!

I have three serious objections to it all. What happens when the villains discover how to counterfeit Mondex cards? And it IS when, not if. What about those souls who distrust banks and only trust folding currency? (Why should everybody be forced to have a bank account?) And finally, and this is the big one, I don't want my bank monitoring my cash purchases as well as my cheque and credit card ones. They say they are not auditing individual card use. Yeah, and flap flap oink too.

Despite all this, I've found Mondex a handy card to stick in my top pocket. If I fancy a tuppenny something while I'm out with nothing smaller than a tenner, I don't have to carry home a ton of shrapnel as a result. Such exotic pleasures are not worth a proposed £1.50 per month though, so back it will go in due course.

The payback for all this free technology is being surveryed regularly, and completing a spending diary. Neither is as onerous as it sounds. Especially as they bribe me with £5 Marks & Spencer vouchers each time.

Well, it's not as if I can use my Mondex card there, is it?

Christopher Chadwick, EUG #25