Mercator Perspectives

Does the Future of Payments Lie in Putting More Value in a Handshake?


Heidi Hinder, an artist in the United Kingdom, thinks that in the future we may pay with our handshakes, hugs, and high-fives.

While most payments industry executives think the future of payments resides in mobile devices, Hinder is testing the idea that wearable technology could make payments more personal by encouraging personal interaction. In her project “Money No Object” at the Watershed in Bristol, she is using RFID technology to create wearable devices that allow people to make payments with gestures and contact.

The goal is to go beyond the contactless technology that makes payments faster today. In fact, part of the plan is to slow down the payments process. Hinder said she noticed that with card payments, and especially tap-and-go technology, it is possible to make a purchase in a shop and barely acknowledge the clerk. By building the payment device into rings, gloves, and other jewelry and fashion accessories, she wants to add an element of human interaction back into payments.

“I want people to be very conscious of making a payment,” she says. “The acknowledgement and physical interaction make people conscious of the payment.”

Last year, MasterCard released its PayPass Adoption Study that showed people with contactless accounts spend 30 percent more on average using their Paypass cards. MasterCard said this could translate into as much as $600 in incremental spending, so being more conscious of making payments could be a good thing for a lot of people.

Being an artist, Hinder wants to see her work in a museum, but not as an exhibit. Instead she wants to help museums function more effectively than they do now. She envisions her payment devices being sold in museum shops as wearable art that contains a payments chip. She is in talks with British museums about creating a system that would allow visitors to buy wearable devices and load them with money. The could then use them to make donations to the museum, buy things in the gift shop or café, and even, at the whimsical end, create their own art to make a payment. One example of her technology in action was putting chips into tap shoes and allowing a dancer to make a payment through a dance. 

 Handshake picture 3 

Museums in Britain are free to enter, so finding ways to change the donation box from a half-full Lucite cube to something more interesting to the donor is among Hinder’s goals. Perhaps giving a docent or even a statue a high five may be a way of drawing donations.

There is an opportunity here to develop a network of payments across a number of museums and cultural attractions. It is not hard to imagine a kind of cultures lovers’ medallion that could be used at various sites all linked into the same network. For tourists or institution members, such a device could not only provide a way to pay, but also a way for museum staff to recognize the supporters.

The system could be made more open by connecting it to one of the major payments network. The key would be demonstrating a use case. While the concept of the interactive payment lends itself to specialized use cases, it could be applied wherever specific physical behavior happens. A dance club could pay prizes (either in cash or in-house credit) to people who dance for a certain amount of time or win a dance contest. Gyms could use the technology to encourage people to complete an exercise set – if you don’t finish your push-ups you get an extra charge. Politicians could collect donations through handshakes by offering commemorative rings loaded with value.

Along with changing the way people pay and interact, she thinks that the transition to new forms of payments could help save money. She previously served as a visiting artist at the Royal Mint, which makes currencies for over 80 countries.

“It seems strange to have people paying a huge amount of money to produce money,” she says. “What form will future payments take?”

For more on Hinder’s work, visit her website

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