Morris-Cotterill: I tried to go cashless. It didn't work.

I tried. I spent two days trying to live using the dominant ewallet in Malaysia. It didn't work. But the problems are far from specific to that particular wallet: in fact in less popular wallets, they are amplified, says Nigel Morris-Cotterill.

Nigel Morris-Cotterill

I chose the dominant player in a fragmented sector to give it the best chance of working. Most of the problems apply no matter which wallet you are using.

1. There's a two stage system. You have a card and you have a wallet. Using the card at tolls, etc. charges your wallet. Except that it often doesn't so you need a balance on the card for those tolls - and car parks - that are not connected.

2. You can set your wallet up to automatically reload from a bank card when the balance falls below a certain amount, or if a purchase exceeds the balance on the card. So you don't need to carry a bank card.

3. It's accepted everywhere for retail, restaurants, etc. so you don't need to carry cash, either. Or not, as it turns out.

This is my experience.

1. You can't pay with the wallet when there is no mobile phone signal. This happens A LOT more than you'd think.

2. You can't pay at retail outlets that don't accept that wallet. It turns out that this is commonplace in deep-discount shops operating on very tight margins (they don't take bank cards, either). Cash to the rescue.

3. It is a reasonable presumption that restaurants, especially those in busy shopping centres (for those in "the West", it's an Asian thing because of the aircon and because independent and individual premises have been bulldozed to build shopping palaces that are, very often, full of warm bodies but devoid of people spending money. It's that aircon thing again.) So it's a shock to find, having eaten, a cashier tapping a sign on the counter listing bank cards only. The no-card, no-cash system hit a roadblock. Dinner companion to the rescue.

Nigel Morris-Cotterill is a financial crime risk and compliance strategist at

4. Often, car parks accept the card and only the card but, as a condition of entry, require a minimum balance that far exceeds the "emergency" sum that sits on a card for toll booths that don't connect to the wallet. Stuck. Creating traffic jam. Passenger to the rescue with a different card from the same provider. On exit, by the way, the car park fee was the equivalent of GBP0.80. There was far more than that on my own card.

5. You can't use a wallet when your phone battery is dead. Using navigation software with GPS eats the battery. So do voice and especially video calls. So it's useless after mid afternoon at best. No cash, no bank card, no spending.

6. Market traders don't accept it. Yes, they have personal wallets that customers could send peer-to-peer payments to but that's commingling personal and business finances, an inherently undesirable situation so most traders just say no. Why don't they accept it? Because many don't even have lights on their stall, much less a point of sale system. Actually, they could use the very effective QR code system but that means always knowing where the card with the code is and market stalls are fast, furious and decentralised (i.e. there is no single place to pay).

7. Kuala Lumpur is a small spot surrounded by the state of Selangor. Selangor has decided to have its own on-street parking system. Some town councils in the state have a system linked to the dominant card. Many off-street, private, car parks only use that dominant card. But it cannot be used for on-street parking in much of the state, including literally a few metres outside the KL/Selangor border. Coin op meters have been removed.

Conclusion : if you need a bank card and cash as a back-up, why bother with the card/wallet at all?

The answer is: because you are forced to use that system for some purposes. Like road tolls and car parks.

Here's the thing: while individual traders might say "we don't accept cash" they actually have no choice because cash is the only legal tender which means that anyone who tenders cash is within their rights to do so. But while you could force them to accept cash to get out of a car park, you can't force them to let you in without a card with a sizeable balance. The most, in law, in the absence of a special dispensation, that any trader can say is that they prefer not to use cash. But there is no legal obligation to pay by wallet - and as my experience shows nor should there be.


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