Many years ago, on the way to do an executive training session in Sun Valley, I stopped to get gas. I spilled gasoline on my shoes and skirt. Since I didn’t have time to change clothes, when I arrived at the training program, I didn’t smell especially fetching. I was terrified that someone would light a cigarette nearby and I’d burst into flames. Perhaps a dramatic training course gimmick, but not one I wanted to test.
I’ve hated pumping gas ever since. My good husband does it for me 90 percent of the time. I used to go to a full-serve station on Hill Road in Boise to avoid pumping it myself, but now that’s gone. So I have always been on the lookout for easier ways to get some tasks, like tank filling, done. I don’t expect gas tank fills to go automatic anytime soon, but I still began thinking about other ways to shop and pay.
Last year, I discovered that the car wash I go to had a “pay a monthly fee and come in as often as you like” program. Now, when I drive up, the tag on my car alerts the system that I’m a frequent washer, the arm lifts, and away I go. One minute later, I’m done and on my way. It is sort of like the E-Z Pass system on tunnels and toll roads around the country.
So why aren’t more organizations — and their banking partners — finding ways to use such drive-thru automatic-pay technology?
I read about Apple Pay, where you use your phone to pay, and Apple’s collaboration with McDonald’s to use Apple Pay there. Another system out of Russia was even more intriguing: a patented drive-thru grocery store. A customer drives past a rotating shelf, “scrolls” through available items and chooses what she wants, places them on a conveyor belt and a cashier checks her out.
So I began speculating about other places where you could have your payment deducted automatically, without having to present a card each time. Could we build in E-Z Pass-type payment into a credit or debit card that you add services to when you sign up? You could avoid stuffing so many cards in your wallet, because the pay system would read when you have it and just let you through (or deduct payment). You could add places to the card as you joined them — the art museum, the zoo, your bank safety deposit “key” — and your “do it all” smart card would keep track of it all for you, sitting in your pocket.
I suppose the next step is the implant you could “add to” on demand. But I’m a wimp when it comes to needles, so I’ll pass on that.
Nancy Napier is distinguished professor, Boise State University, firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is part of the Aug. 17-Sept. 20, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on banking and finance.