I've always loved the thought exercise associated with Carl Sagan's public lecture at Cornell University in 1994, "Pale Blue Dot". Carl Sagan - Pale Blue Dot - YouTube
"We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there – on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam."
In his lecture, Carl Sagan masterfully captured the humbling scale of our universe and the small part we play. On a smaller scale, the idea of "me" is also unique in that the rare makeup of the atoms that comprise "me" exists now, in this single point in time. As part of this universal atomic soup, we all have unique attributes that make it extremely difficult to commit fraud with the universe and duplicate the "me" in a way that would be profitable to hackers. So with a bit of humor and applying Carl's words to payments and the idea of "me," consider this:
"We succeeded in making many purchases, and, if you look at it, you see a ‘me’ behind each one. That's me. That's who I am. In me, all of the things I've ever purchased, all of the food I've consumed to become me, all of the events that have poured together to randomly create me. The aggregate of all my purchases, thousands of Happy Meals, phones, reckless purchases, every vacation, every student loan, every bar tab that led to bad decisions, every gift, every purchase in the hope of happiness, every unexpected child expense, every mother and father dinner to escape the kids for a few hours, every skiing weekend to spend with long lost friends, every purchase of the next great thing that promises a little more comfort, every poorly written software that steals our identity, every coffee purchase to rocket through the day, every new fashion we have to have, every comment, ‘hey y'all watch this,’ that led to unplanned hospital bills, every investment and loss in the history of our investing, is part of ‘me’ – on a pale blue planet, sitting in a chair, typing on a computer in Denver, Colorado."
Now let's shift to payments and open a discussion about "me" and my identity. Over the next 20 years, do we decide to invent more complex authentication methodologies and processes or do we make "me" the best way to do business?
EMV is the current "big thing" to battle fraud for card present purchases. However, I wonder, why waste time with complex technology and capture methods when each of us has a very unique way to authenticate who we are? Why not leverage our bio-metric signatures as a complex validation for purchase? Why carry wallets with cards when we already have a device (phone) that can be used for validation of our unique cosmic atomic identity of "me"? Why bother with different industry types and capture methods such as retail, eCommerce, MOTO, card present and card not present, when everything could be blurred into one authentication layer that serves all?
Traditionally, our purchasing arsenal involves tender types (credit, debit, gift, ACH), capture methods, industry, MCC codes, etc. – each requiring the consumer to have the necessary card or routing/account number to utilize each one, and to protect the acquirer or issue based on a risk model and the people in each bucket's purchasing tendencies. What if we added an authentication layer of "me," that is so unique that by validation it would associate all different purchasing options? And since it's a phone validating "me," the concept of card present or card not present no longer applies?
- The big question, in my opinion, is whether EMV or the bio-metrics of "me" is more secure? I think that the combination of a phone which has a unique chip-set, combined with retinal/facial/voice recognition and possibly a PIN would go a long way in competing with a EMV chip and PIN solution.
- Today’s smartphones are more personal to people than wallets with plastic. If you were to be presented a choice between giving up your phone versus your wallet, which would you choose?
- Use location to assess purchase and fraud. It would be nearly impossible for a purchase to be made in NYC, followed by another one in L.A. just 30 minutes later. We are, however, talking 20 years out so who knows? Teleporting may be viable then.
- Person-to-person or person-to-merchant payments would be much easier. Imagine using your phone to authenticate someone you are paying– for example, a babysitter watching your kids, or a merchant selling art at a fair. The merchant would authenticate themselves with the phone to login and be tied to a merchant account they have with a merchant acquirer. They then would authenticate people purchasing their goods with the same phone and allow the customer to select the payment type.
- "Me" health diagnostics, like the movie "Big hero 6," where Baymax has the ability to use bio-metrics to determine if the person has any health needs, thus leading to additional purchases.
- Too much personal information collected.
- The idea of, “stay out of my business.” Some consumers will find it creepy to be bombarded with other items or discounts while shopping at a store. I feel, however, that this is a generational issue and changing with each passing year.
- What would a government do with this information? We need to consider how this would work on a global basis.
- How would a system account for a person's atomic soup constantly changing?
- Loyalty programs
- Purchasing insights
- Coupons and discounts, particularly for millenials
There’s a lot to mull over and consider when using the concept of "me" related to payments. Is it possible to aggregate the technology, structures of industry, and forfeiture of personal freedoms for convenience?