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The Green Sheet Online Edition

November 26, 2007 • Issue 07:11:02

Insider's report on payments
Art imitates life or does life imitate art?

By Patti Murphy
The Takoma Group

Debit cards are mainstream. If I didn't accept this notion before, my resolve was shaken when I saw a demonstration of Monopoly: Electronic Banking Edition recently on TV. Instead of using colorful paper money, players wheel and deal their way around the Monopoly board with debit cards.

Moreover, my faith in cash and checks was knocked off its foundation when I discovered another childhood classic - The Game of Life - has been updated with a Twists & Turns edition in which cash is replaced with Visa Inc. cards.

Both new versions of these game board classics sell alongside the original games. But I'm betting the updates will be a big hit this Christmas, and eventually the versions of these games featuring cash will be collectors' items.

Hasbro Inc., the company that markets these venerable American classics, is doing what it can to promote cashless Monopoly.

In early November, Hasbro helped sponsor TNT Network's airing of the American classic fantasy film The Wizard of Oz.

A commercial, which repeated throughout the two-hour feature, showed a family of four playing Monopoly: Electronic Banking Edition.

The daughter was all atwitter as she ran opponents' debit cards through a mock POS terminal after they landed on one of her properties.

It was rather apropos, I thought, promoting this new cashless Monopoly game in conjunction with airing The Wizard of Oz.

Monopoly was created in the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression. It was a symbol of hope for many Americans. The Wizard of Oz, a movie classic released in 1939, was a cultural phenomenon, too. "Oh my!" was it ever.

Plastic is more fun than cash

"Wheel and deal your way to a fortune even faster using debit cards instead of cash! All it takes is a swipe for money to change hands," Hasbro proclaims on its Web site. "Now you can collect rent, buy properties and pay fines - with the touch of a button. It's a new way to play the family classic."

Matt Collins, Vice President of Marketing at Hasbro, said Visa cards were a natural update to The Game of Life. The game "has been updated many times since its launch in 1960 to ensure it matches modern day life," he said.

"When we started to design a completely new edition of the popular game, we knew it was also time to reflect the way people choose to pay and be paid, and replacing cash with Visa was an obvious choice."

In the newest edition of The Game of Life each player receives a Visa-branded plastic card at the start of the game. A new electronic "LIFEPod" replaces the trusty spin wheel. It's a personal assistant and electronic banking unit that stores each player's financial data and status in the game.

"This latest enhancement is a powerful illustration of consumer preference to pay with Visa for everyday purchases and once-in-a-lifetime experiences," said Susanne Lyons, Visa's Chief Marketing Officer, in a press release.

Not surprisingly, some folks are having a difficult time with the notion of these updated games.

"They worry about introducing children as young as 9 to the world of plastic before they're ready to understand credit," Eileen Ambrose, a business columnist at the Baltimore Sun, wrote in October.

Oh, come on now, most kids these days are exposed to plastic payments long before they are 9 years old. In fact, there are plenty of kids who understand the significance of plastic money before they even start school.

Kids like my friends' son, Adam, age 3. "I'm not sure he knows what cash is," his dad boasted to me not long ago. "We're always using [credit or debit] cards."

Cash is passé

The cashless society may have been a fantasy at one point in our lives, but it's now an accepted notion.

Data released this summer by Visa reveals that roughly three-quarters of Baby Boomers and their offspring (often referred to as Echo Boomers) believe cash will one day be obsolete, and all payments will be transacted electronically.

In fact, the attitude is even more prevalent among Baby Boomers; 79% of these consumers expect America to become a "cashless society," while only 74% of Echo Boomers are of a similar mindset.

By Visa's estimates, the two groups combined will account for better than 50% of consumer spending in the United States by 2015. Echo Boomers are expected to spend $2.4 trillion that year; Baby Boomers will spend $4.6 trillion, according to Visa's data. This year Echo Boomers will spend about $400 billion, and their parents' generation will spend about $3.8 trillion, Visa predicts.

"These two generations are the powerhouses of U.S. consumer spending," said Wayne Best, Visa's Chief Economist. "The shift in economic power from the Baby Boomer generation to the Echo Boomer generation will have significant implications across all retail sectors."

Meanwhile, debit card usage continues to increase at a steady clip in the real world of buying and selling. Research recently released by First Data Corp., for example, shows consumer debit card usage (PIN and signature based combined) grew from 20 transactions a month in 2002 to 24.2 transactions a month in 2007.

My husband is an avid user of debit cards. (Sometimes it irks me because I almost never find cash in his wallet anymore.) So, when he joined me to watch The Wizard of Oz, I directed his attention to the Monopoly commercial. His reaction surprised me.

"It takes all the fun out of the game," he insisted. "There's a real satisfaction that comes from hoarding and gloating over your cash holdings when playing Monopoly. It's just not the same with a card."

As I think back upon his comments, I can't help but reflect on the days when calculators began pushing slide rules from the repertoire of math and science. By that time (around 1980) I had already mastered use of the slide rule (compelled by high school and college curricula).

But it wasn't long before I, like millions of other Americans, coveted the notion of a pocket calculator priced under $100. Today, it's possible to purchase a full-function calculator for less than $20, and slide rules are novelty items.

I have to admit, sitting here today, staring at my vintage slide rule, I can't even begin to figure out how to use the contraption.

Hmmm. Could it be that someday one of us will be saying this about cash and checks? end of article

Patti Murphy is Senior Editor of The Green Sheet and President of The Takoma Group. E-mail her at patti@greensheet.com.

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

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