How I spent 30 days without access to an EFTPOS card

Expiry dates on modern debit and credit cards always seem so far away. They do, that is, until you find yourself in a store going to use PayPass/PayWave and suddenly that dreaded “declined/invalid” symbol shows up on the EFTPOS terminal. You immediately rack your brain for answers, you whip out your phone and quickly check your online banking to ensure nothing has gone catastrophically wrong. Everything is fine on your account. Then you look at the card, and notice that you’ve just passed into the month after your card expired. Damn.

That’s exactly what happened to me at the beginning of October 2016. My credit card and debit card both expired at the end of September. It’s not usually a problem because the bank sends out new cards in advance and the transition is pretty seamless. Unless the cards don’t show up.

So there I am standing at the counter of a restaurant, having already eaten my delicious meal, with no way to pay. Then it occurs to me that my bank’s mobile app has a tap-to-pay feature; something I’ve only experimented with a few times in the past. Quickly finding the right button, I hold my phone to the EFTPOS terminal and that beautiful, stress relieving, “ding” sound signals a successful transaction. Crisis averted.

I called my bank and the cards had been sent, and to the correct address, but had failed to turn up. Not a problem, the cards are canceled and replacements are on the way. They’ll arrive in 4-6 days. While I await their arrival I’m left with the options provided to me by my bank’s app.

This got me thinking...

How viable is it to go cardless in today’s world? I decided to find out. Although my new cards did arrive promptly after being reissued, I decided to see if I could go about my daily life for 30 days without using a card to make purchases. Could I function as if credit and debit cards did not exist at all, and use my phone to make purchases and get cash when I needed it?

What about Android and Apple Pay?

Yes, both Android and Apple have mobile tap-to-pay options that make the process of using your phone to pay very simple. In most cases, you don’t need to input a password before paying–you simply make sure your phone is awake and hold it to the EFTPOS terminal. However, both of these options are tied to a credit or debit card. The phone acts as a proxy for the card. Remember, I didn’t have a valid card at the time, and my bank’s app made it possible to use my phone to pay directly from an account.

Tap & Pay and Cardless Cash

These two features would become the basis of my fiscal participation in day-to-day life over the next month. This is how they work.

Tap & Pay

Using the NFC chip in my smart phone, my bank’s app let me complete EFTPOS payments the same way that a modern PayPass or PayWave enabled card does. I simply open the app, input my pin, and hold the back of my phone to the EFTPOS terminal. The nice bit here is that this feature is tied to my account, not a card, and therefore does not have an expiry date attached to its use.


Depending on your bank, the account that’s tied to their tap-to-pay app feature might need to be a specific type in order to be compatible. That’s worth checking out.

Cardless Cash

It’s my experience that Australia is much more accepting of cashless transactions, and the technology that enables them, than other parts of the world. Almost every shop in Darwin (where I live) now has a tap-to-pay enabled EFTPOS machine. Over the last few years carrying cash has become a rarer and rarer thing. As I started my 30 day “card cleanse”, it occurred to me that having my phone as my sole payment device presented some challenges that I’d need to account for, including:

  • Battery life: no power, no pay.
  • App updates: if the app is out of date, it can disable the tap-to-pay function. I don’t want to discover this while I’m holding up the morning queue at my local coffee shop.
  • Older EFTPOS machines: running into a machine with no tap-to-pay function would render my phone useless.

The remedy for these challenges is, of course, to have cash on hand as a back up. My bank, thankfully, has an option that allows me to withdraw cash from an ATM without my card. Pretty nifty. This is how it works:

  1. Use the app to locate my nearest bank-owned ATM.
  2. Request cardless cash: the app will display a transaction code, and then send me an SMS with a pin number for the specific transaction.
  3. Visiting the ATM, I choose “Cardless Cash” from the menu options, input the transaction code and pin and voilà! Cold hard cash, in hand, without needing a card.

My experiences

Overall, I have to say, it was pretty easy to get through 30 days without using a physical credit or debit card. Not once did I run into a situation that just flat out stopped me in my tracks. Here are a few of my observations:

Lots of people still don’t know about this technology

Although the uptake is quite quick and strong, I still had regular instances of a shopkeeper looking at me funny as I pressed the back of my phone to their EFTPOS terminal. One attendant looked at me utterly bewildered, like they were watching an ape try and use a bone hammer for the first time, as I tapped my phone. Their utter surprise at the success of the transaction was followed up with, “So, that’s a thing now?”.

Interestingly, none of the uninitiated I encountered ever questioned the validity of the payment. Instead, they were interested in the technology, how it worked, and how they could set it up themselves.

You still need to check payment options

While very wide spread in Darwin, the technology is still emerging and I found myself taking a quick glance at the EFTPOS terminal, to make sure it was tap-to-pay enabled, on the way into places where paying occurred after the fact (like restaurants etc). I only ever ran into one instance where it wasn’t. Luckily, cardless cash was easily available from a nearby ATM–but this could cause some issues based on the location of the business and the closest ATM.

Initially, paying became a more involved process

My bank’s app requires a password or fingerprint scan to enable the tap-to-pay feature each time you use it. This meant that each time I approached a counter I had to make sure the app was open, enabled, and didn’t time out before I completed the payment. These little moments of anxiety spent thinking “is the phone setup?”, and “man, I hope this works” took a few days to wear off before I was totally comfortable with the process and trusted it to work consistently.

Financial awareness

Accessing the app to make each and every purchase made me more aware of my finances. With a physical card, the relationship between a purchase and your money is somewhat disjointed. You just use the card and it works. There’s no sense of money changing hands or the state of your accounts–you have to make a point to check that information separately. Using the app meant that my balance was right there, I could see it change. I became much more aware, which I think is ultimately a good thing.

I started to use the technology more

Eating out with 5 friends and the restaurant doesn’t split bills? No worries, my bank’s app let me send money directly to the person who paid. Power bill became due? I’ll BPAY that straight from the phone. Online scheduled transfers, transactions, account and bill management, I used all of these things before my little experiment, but over the month my phone became a consolidated hub for everything.

Final thoughts

It was an interesting month. Depending on your location, I believe we’re on the tipping point of being able to do away with physical cards altogether. Also, each bank app or payment option is going to have its own caveats and limitations to work around, so check those out before making the switch. I still keep the physical cards in my wallet, but they’re beginning to collect a thin layer of dust in between each use.

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