You are reading one of the 12 TRENDS FOR 2012. Read all 12 trends here »


Why a cashless future is (almost) here, and why it will be about convenience and an entire new eco-system of payments, rewards and offers.

Sure, the cashless society has been popping-up in every trend list since 2005. And while 2012 (again) is not going to be the year that consumers en masse will forego coins and notes and just swipe their smartphones, it is going to be the year that major players like Google and MasterCard will actively roll out their cashless initiatives* around the world. For consumers, the initial lure will be convenience, but eventually mobile payments will create an entirely new data-driven eco-system of rewards, purchase history, deals and so on.

* Many of these initiatives incorporate NFC (Near Field Communication), which allows for encrypted data exchange between two devices in close proximity ("near field") to each other. For instance: a reader located next to a retail cash register. Shoppers who have their credit card information stored in their NFC smartphones can pay for purchases by waving their smartphones near or tapping them on the reader, rather than using an actual credit card.

Just a few of the CASH-LESS initiatives to keep an eye on in 2012:

  • In October 2011, Google's free, NFC-enabled mobile payment system Google Wallet became operational at a selection of retail chains across the US. Licensing MasterCard’s PayPass technology, shoppers simply tap their mobile device on special terminals at points-of-sale to pay instantly. In participating stores, they can also redeem special coupons, participate in sales promotions or gain loyalty points, simply by choosing to pay with Google Wallet.

  • In June 2011, US online payments processor PayPal demonstrated a mobile payments application for Android devices. Users install the app and activate the PayPal widget, and can then request to send or receive funds from another individual with a smartphone and PayPal account. Using NFC, the two users can then hold their devices together in order to instantly transfer funds.

  • Square is an electronic payments service which enables users to accept credit card payments by using a card-reading portable device connected to their iPhone, iPad or Android device. Both the Square card-reader and app are free, although there is a 2.75% charge for each payment made. Once the system has been set up, users can accept payments immediately. In November 2011, Richard Branson and Visa became investors in the venture. In the same month, Square updated the app, allowing for a completely hands-free payment experience by simply saying your name.
  • Launched in Sweden in June 2011, iZettle is a device that enables consumers to accept credit card payments while on the go. The portable chip and pin reader plugs into iPhones or iPads and uses an iZettle app, meaning that card transactions can take place instantly. Bills can also be paid or money transferred using the device. There's a facility to tag transactions with images, notes or location data, which users can post to Facebook and Twitter to share their purchases with friends.

Image courtesy of antimega

  • In November 2011 Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s main rail operator, extended its Touch&Travel service to all its 320 stations. Passengers can either use NFC to pay, or take a photo of a barcode as they enter and exit stations.