Like most people, I carry a wallet fairly bulging with cards. All told, I have about 15-five devoted to finance (ATM, credit, telephone, etc.), the remainder to identification and services. As I grow older, I find myself adding more cards, so by the time I retire I'll probably have in excess of 50 crammed into my billfold. At that rate, I'll probably need a hip replacement before I'm 45.
Help is on the way, however. Chip technology is allowing card manufacturers to become more creative when it comes to consumer convenience. The latest innovation is contactless payment, which allows a customer to pay for a service simply by passing a chip card over some type of electronic reader. This has also allowed payment cards to become much smaller. Both Discover and Visa have introduced miniaturized versions of their standard card, complete with a small hole in the corner so you can conveniently attach it to your keychain.
Although technically interesting, neither of these solutions truly solves my dilemma. Sure, I no longer have to risk elbow strain sliding my cards through a reader, but I still have to carry them on my person. The smaller cards mean less bulk and much needed relief to my back pocket, but my keychain will soon look and feel like a ship's anchor.
What I would like is one all-encompassing super card that can handle all my transaction and ID needs throughout the day. I envision a card that can automatically handle my car toll and train ticket expenses on my way to work, electronically report me as "here" at the entrance to my office, pay for my breakfast and lunch, act as a pass to get into the gym, pay for my chiropractor while at the same time passing the billing information onto my PPO, and purchase a movie for me when I wave it over my cable box.
This vision may not be as farfetched as it sounds. The technology for it to happen, at least on the consumer end, already exists with the aforementioned chip card and contactless scanners. In Japan, card giant JCB has already taken the first steps with a payment card that can also by used as a train and metro fare card. The company is working on forming the multiple alliances and standards needed to make a true multifunctional payment card a reality. (See Cover Story. )
Unfortunately, I can't imagine America's hyper-competitive financial structure coming together in a way that makes the universal payment card possible, at least in the sort term. So I guess I'll have to build up my stamina through Stairmaster, and avoid applying for the Subway frequent sandwich card.