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Living with Technology / Bank on change in your personal finances

Published 6:20 am, Wednesday, January 22, 2014
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How we bank has certainly changed over the years.

We used to have paper checks that we would use to pay for things at department stores, gas stations, grocery stores and more.

Some places used to accept credit cards, but only for tangible goods. Never a meal or a car repair.

When we needed cash, we would go to a bank branch and write a check or make a savings withdrawl to get cash. Eventually, places like grocery stores would allow us to write a check for more than the amount of our purchases and get some cash back.

I had a vision of future banking when I lived in Belgium during the early 1980s. There, twice a week, we had bankers who would come to our office to transact business.

During that time, we could transfer funds (no checks) to pay our rent and other bills. At that time, Europe also offered debit cards that could be used in grocery stores, and they even had unattended gas stations. Just slide in your debit card and get gas. There was not even an attendant around. These were unheard of in the U.S.

ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) were one of the first advances that, at least for me, was a game-changer. It meant that I no longer had to go to a bank during their hours to deposit or withdraw cash. Nor did I have to write as many checks to do so.

I seem to recall very early on that one could use any ATM without a fee as banks were working to secure people's adoption of ATMs. This has changed now except for small banks that need a network of ATMs that they can't provide.

Online banking was another huge step forward. It allows people to perform a significant amount of their banking online, such as viewing their balances, seeing what checks have cleared, what deposits have arrived transfer money and, for most people, pay bills.

Combine online banking with software such as Quicken and it's a pretty powerful tool.

Companies such as PayPal have made paying for items even easier. If I'm a merchant, I don't have to set up an expensive merchant account with a bank. PayPal makes it easy to send and receive payments from individuals and companies.

Mobile banking extends that even further. Some of the new smartphone apps let me pay people directly from my phone. And with some phones including NFC (near-field communications) chips, simply placing your phone near a compatible device can cause a payment to occur, much as we currently do with a credit card.

But the one technology that I just find amazing is the ability to deposit a check using my mobile phone. Simply take a photograph of the check with your phone (front and back) and you can deposit it without going to a bank.

The technology is not what surprises me, but the lack of a check being seen and processed by a bank does. While I haven't received my checks with my bank statement for years, I guess the fact that the bank has a usable image of the check is sufficient to be safe and secure.

I look forward to seeing what the banking industry comes up with next.

Mark Mathias is a Westport resident and has worked in information technology for more than 30 years. His "Living With Technology" appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at: livingwithtechnology@mathias.org