Tuesday , November 24, 2020

Thoughts in the Time of Plague

At the time of this writing, a plague has descended on the world, and it’s not likely to have lifted by the time you read this column. Covid-19, a respiratory disease caused by a novel form of the coronavirus, originated in China this winter but has now swept through countries around the globe, sickening and killing thousands.

The impact on multiple industries has been heavy. In the United States, restaurants and bars in many states have been forced to close by state or local edict, leaving them with only their delivery and takeout businesses. Other firms have sent their workers away to work at home in the interest of slowing the virus’s spread, doubtless a wise move but one that in its own way takes a toll on local businesses as people avoid crowds.

In the face of these wrenching changes and the downright suffering the virus has caused, it seems gauche somehow to consider the toll the plague has taken on payments. But payments is a business, and this is a magazine that covers that business. So consider we must.

But in the wake of registering the impact on consumer spending, on the payment media used for that spending, and the fortunes of this or that technology, can we lose sight of the very real human cost of this pandemic? Too often, we think, this dimension has been lost in the flood of coverage, overtaken by the speculation on, say, whether contactless payment will win out at the point of sale because it doesn’t require the user to touch that filthy point-of-sale device.

We plead guilty. We’ve run such stories. So have our competitors. But modern medicine will ultimately defeat this plague. Businesses and payments will rebound. And we’ll have a market verdict on whether contactless payment has become habitual.  Then, with all the questions about the virus having been answered, the devastation remembered, the final costs toted up, the altered and ended lives lamented, what will really matter? That some payment method, some API or SDK, emerged with momentum, smiled on by merchants, consumers, and payments impresarios?

Will we remember the cost in human terms? A strange question for a business publication to ask, yes, but we think it would be a deeply sad thing to lose sight of what it gets at. It would be yet another casualty of the plague to recall, when it finally subsides, not the toll it took on our family, friends, or colleagues, but rather the way it reshaped this or that business practice, how it favored or disfavored this or that technology.

Now, while the virus rages, let’s resolve not to let that happen.

—John Stewart, Editor, john@digitaltransactions.net

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