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What if I am the token?

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Just been having a few meetings about the future of payments. Funnily enough, that sounds like the theme of my new book Intelligent Money. The message? Money is embedded, invisible and intelligent. It is ubiquitous, everywhere, anywhere. It is just part of the fabric of the world we live in. But then I thought further, talking about a vision of where this could go. It hit me as my friend paid for the lunch we had with his mobile wallet card on a terminal. I looked and thought: why do we have cards, wallets, mobile contactless, terminals? Why can’t we just pay by smiling or winking?

This is not a new thought – Alipay came out with pay-by-face years ago – but it is a developing thought. In fact, I remember presenting in America twenty years ago and finishing with a joke: why can’t I pay with my DNA. I’d just spit at the end of dinner, rather than presenting a bank issued token.

And there’s the rub: it’s all about tokenisation, but what if I am the token?

I could just walk anywhere, everywhere, all the time, without needing a mobile, a card, cash (what’s that?) or any other form of payment token, because I am the token. If I am the token, then there’s no issue about KYC or AML because I am the token. Digital identity is solved. If I am the token, then there’s no passports or driver license or other ID required, because I am the token. You get the idea.

I could travel the world and homeland security recognises me through face ID (they do this already); I can walk into a store and walk out with everything without a checkout (they do this already); I can be a free spirit and walk the land with total freedom of movement (well, not quite).

Cars self-drive, so I don’t need car keys; food arrives to my door on demand; if I want to see a movie, it’s projected to my screen ten seconds after it is released in cinemas. This is not the future. All of these things are right here, right now.

The only question of this future is: when do you spend over the limits of your income?

My constant refrain is that old Charles Dickens saying of Mr. Micawber:

“Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19 [pounds] 19 [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds ought and six, result misery.”

If you’re constantly smiling and winking face gets you into filing and blinking bankruptcy … well, that’s not good. So, obviously you need an embedded, invisible and intelligent financial provider to keep you out of trouble.

And that’s where the bank of the future comes in as, even though this whole text has been about payments, it’s not about payments. It’s about enabling the embedded, invisible and intelligent architecture and infrastructure to allow this freedom of the future to work.

We’re talking about removing all terminals, cards, documents, border controls and more; and replacing them with a new CCTV style structure that is everywhere. Similar to that scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise is in the shopping mall (who goes to those anymore?), he is recognised every step of the way.

That is where the world is heading. In fact, we are pretty much there today. By way of example, two things happened to me in the last decade that made me wake up and shake up. One was where I forgot to pay for an item in a store, and security challenged me … ten minutes later … half a mile from the store. Long story. The other is where I left my mobile phone in an airport automated identity check terminal and then got to passport control and realised, told them what had happened and they found it … but, whilst I waited, I noticed that every single person walking towards the passport control was being checked using facial identification on their terminal. It was awesome and scary.

As we keep saying: science fiction becomes science fact and, as technology progresses faster and faster, I am the token is probably going to be the most critical and radical change to our world in the next decade. The good news is that if I am the token, at least the system will know that I am Chris Skinner and not ChatGPT.

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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