Sunday 23 April 2017

Adrian Weckler: Bank of Ireland - I want Apple Pay not cheques

I can live with paying more in fees. But I cannot live with a bank that prioritises cheques over modern conveniences such as mobile payments (Stock picture)
I can live with paying more in fees. But I cannot live with a bank that prioritises cheques over modern conveniences such as mobile payments (Stock picture)
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Spare a thought for the customer support staff of Bank of Ireland and AIB. Last week, both sets of teams were inundated with enquiries from hundreds of frustrated customers, wanting to know when they may get to use Apple Pay.

Bank of Ireland took the worst of the flak as it doesn't even have Android Pay as an alternative.

Instead, its policy is to issue cheque books.

But paper IOUs finally look endangered. For those who missed it, Apple finally launched its Apple Pay mobile payments system into Ireland last week. In a nutshell, this system allows you to save your contactless credit card's details into your iPhone's digital 'Wallet' so that the iPhone becomes the physical object you use when paying for things at a contactless payment machine in a shop. It's incredibly handy. It's also pretty secure considering each payment requires your fingerprint, meaning a stolen iPhone is useless to the thief.

But the country's two biggest banks decided to sit the launch out. In doing so, they handed a free pass to KBC and Ulster Bank, the two banks with which Apple Pay can be used.

As a result, hundreds (perhaps thousands) of customers are now considering a move away from the big two banks.

I am one of those customers. My bank, Bank of Ireland, is an especially egregious case when it comes to a lack of modern options. For its own reasons, it sat out the introduction of Android Pay last December, making it the only major bank not to have either Apple Pay or Android Pay.

It has no problem issuing me with a chequebook, though.

So now I'm looking to open an account with KBC or Ulster Bank.

Quite apart from the issue of Apple Pay, this may be no bad thing. I'm fairly sure that moving bank almost always results in some saving anyway, regardless of extra benefits such as the use of Apple Pay.

I'm also fairly sure that it's not an overreaction to consider moving away from a bank because they don't have a shiny new system. We all have some issue or other with our existing bank. An item such as Apple Pay is really just the nudge many of us need to look at our finances with a bit more diligence. This is especially so as most of us have probably been with the same bank for years out of sheer inertia.

So I don't feel especially nerdy that it's the lack of Apple Pay that is finally pushing me into taking a proactive stance on my own banking habits.

I can live with paying more in fees. But I cannot live with a bank that prioritises cheques over modern conveniences such as mobile payments.

From the tsunami of negative feedback that Bank of Ireland got this week, I'm not alone. (To be fair, AIB also took it in the neck for not having Apple Pay. But it, at least, has mobile payments in the form of Android Pay. It also says it's in discussions with Apple about Apple Pay).

Why do we want these mobile payment systems?

I'd say it's because we're sick of flaky pieces of plastic. And we're sick of waiting in shop queues while others take ages unzipping wallets, tapping pin codes into terminals (which then sometimes take more time to process the transaction), replacing their cards, rezipping the wallet and replacing the wallet in their bags.

We also may be looking for slightly better security. Just over a week ago, I got a call from my bank telling me my credit card had been compromised and I'd need to wait over a week until a new one was issued to me. This is currently causing me administrative chaos with everything from disrupted bin payments and M50 tolls to Spotify and Netflix subscription interruptions. Whether or not the card was physically compromised or hacked from some website isn't that important because I'm pretty sure that using Apple Pay (or Android Pay) in future would be more secure.

This is because paying in a shop (or online) using Apple Pay or Android Pay doesn't always require the kind of physical disclosure of sensitive data (such as the three-digit CVV security number) that physical cards require. The whole system is based on a more secure, encrypted form of transaction that uses one-time dynamic codes.

For me, this means that I'm less likely to be called up by the bank and told that someone has withdrawn €200 from an ATM in Seville using what appears to be my card.

It also means a slightly thinner physical wallet and less of a necessity to keep changing cards when they disintegrate or bug out from being placed next to other cards in the same wallet.

While I can't completely divest my affairs from Bank of Ireland (I have a mortgage, for example), a few enquiries last week showed me that it's quite easy to switch a lot of current account stuff without too much hassle.

In the case of one of the Apple Pay banks, KBC, there also appears to be a fee-less option once a balance of €2,000 is maintained.

An alternative option to switching banks is Boon, a prepay system that works by downloading an app and topping up via a prepaid digital Mastercard. It works in any shop whose terminals accept the Mastercard contactless logo.

But that may be too restrictive. I'm not crazy about the thought of a constant top-up system where shortfalls may take days to rebalance.

So I'm going to try one of the other banks. I'm willing to do this just so I can use an iPhone as a payment tool. But in the process, I bet I'll save money on my day-to-day banking costs.

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