People scurry past buskers, beggars and collection buckets, heads down, eyes averted, convincing themselves they're not heartless, just simply without cash. After all, in the 21st century, who needs it? Today and most days, an elderly man named Michael is busking on Wellington's Lambton Quay. In an alcove off the footpath he stands and juggles three tennis balls. At lunchtime, the streets are awash with suits. But Michael's icecream container is empty.
This year marks a decade since the Reserve Bank proposed to remove the 5c coin from circulation. By then, New Zealand was already leading the world in electronic payments. But as merchants and customers largely embrace the movement towards a cashless society, those who rely on loose change are suffering.
For the past three years, the annual Poppy Appeal, the primary source of funds for the Returned Services Association's support services, has been static. Chief executive David Moger says this is despite huge increases in the number of people at Anzac services.
"There's clearly a mismatch, and we've concluded one of the reasons for that is we've been providing just the one channel - cash - and also the physical location of the collector is a limiting factor."
The RSA has moved with the times, by engaging retail networks which offer electronic transactions and provide a greater number of contact points. For the last two appeals, Z Energy distributed poppies and collection boxes and allowed customers to make donations when paying for fuel. Those funds were passed on to the RSA.
RSA this year created a "text" campaign, whereby people could donate $3 via text message in exchange for a poppy. "We're also developing a platform for people to donate online. That will be for 2015," Moger says.
BNZ retail director Andy Symons is passionate about the movement towards a cashless society, describing New Zealand's banking as "fast-moving and exciting", but says he'd be surprised to see the "complete disappearance of [cash] in our lifetime".
Symons says we can expect to see more transactions of any value moving to electronic formats, rendering cash unnecessary in daily life.
Snapper chief executive Miki Szikszai agrees that New Zealand would "definitely" be a world leader in terms of electronic payments worldwide. "Eftpos is the reason for that," he says. When eftpos became available in New Zealand in the mid 1980s, thanks to competition, fees were low, meaning there were few barriers to people adopting it.
Snapper also sees the collection bucket conundrum as an opportunity. Szikszai says some charities have responded by trying to sign people up for ongoing giving.
"You see them on the street, trying to get people to donate. From observing people's reactions, I think people feel less like giving in those scenarios because instead of it being a casual thing, it feels like a commitment. In the moment, when you're going from A to B, it just doesn't feel right."
Launched in 2008, with more than 500,000 cards issued, Snapper produces millions of transactions a month for small payments such as public transport, parking, taxi fares, food and drink, newspapers, and movie tickets. It can also be loaded with office building access, school IDs, or season passes.
Snapper is also part of the move towards industry standards for mobile wallets, which Szikszai says is the way of the future. However, he cautions against moving too quickly. "These systems are fundamentally based on trust. People have to trust that their funds aren't compromised. These changes take time to occur, because cultural acceptance is very important." If technology could once again make street-giving as easy as a drop in the bucket, he believes it would be a hit - for charities, and the public.
"Observing people's behaviour on the street . . . as soon as they see the collector, they're dropping their eyes, that means their walk through town isn't as enjoyable as they'd like. Those things matter, I think, around the tone of the city.
"That's why I think there's something we can do about that."
A CASHLESS SOCIETY
What is NFC? Near-field communication technology allows devices to communicate with each other using radio waves in close contact. It's the technology used in "digital wallets", Snapper cards, and credit cards. Apple devices don't have NFC chips, but these are expected to be included in the next iPhone. Modern smartphones using the Android operating system have built-in NFC capability, including the recently released Amazon Fire Phone. NFC differs from other wireless communication technologies such as Bluetooth, because it operates only over very short ranges, usually within a few centimetres. This makes it more secure, and less power hungry.
- Sunday Star Times