FEAR OF FINANCE

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The Independent Online
The French are to resume nuclear testing on the Mururoa Atholl. Mondex is to test its electronic cash substitute in Swindon. Some environments are just not safe.

Mondex is a consortium comprising NatWest, Midland and BT - a fanatical organisation pledged to remove notes and coins from society and replace them with electronic wallets and smart cards. Swindon is a large town in Wiltshire with 190,000 adults, over 1,000 retailers and "no distorting influences such as tourism'' to muck up the experiment.

The broad view is that Swindon may never be the same again. The task of grappling with two different forms of cash can only lead to nervous breakdown on a grand scale or a massive swing in favour of European Monetary Union.

Oddly enough, the concept is a dream.

The public walks around with smart cards that can hold unlimited amounts of electronic cash as numbers on a microchip. The cards are loaded from the users' bank, either directly, or using card-readers attached to a telephone. When a cardholder wants to pay for something the card is put in a Mondex reader which transfers cash to the retailer. Or you can pay over the telephone. You will even get Mondex wallets so you can transfer cash between individuals.

The three giant corporations have spent a fortune developing the system, convinced the cashless society is upon us. The Swindon experiment will last for a year - just to make sure the brainchild "works in a live environment''.

There is but one fly in the ointment - Mondexman's first trip to London (with friend)...

RailTrack: "BING BONG BONG BING. Customers are advised that we apologise for the delay in the 3.40 from Swindon. This was due to defective rolling stock being in the er... wrong location."

Mondexman: "I'm in agony. Got 10p for the station toilet?'' Friend: "Coin or electronic?''

Mondexman: "Oh no, this really isn't happening. The turnstile doesn't have a Mondex reader. Quick, the pub.''

Friend: "Lend us a fiver and I'll get a round in while you go. Excuse me, two pints of lager and a packet of crisps please."

Landlord: "That'll be pounds 3.80."

Friend: "Is electronic OK?''

Landlord: "What?''

Friend: "You know, Mondex."

Landlord: "F*@**^%$ **"

Friend: "Alright, alright, here give us that fiver quick."

Mondexman: "Here's my smart card, stick it in your Mondex wallet."

Friend: "Er, that won't help. I think he wants a more traditional form of settlement.

Mondexman (to all patrons): "Can anyone here change an electronic tenner for a folding five and five ones?"

NatWest director (in charge of Mondex project): "It just so happens that I can. You must be from Swindon. How much do you have on your card?"

Mondexman: "Dunno, I locked my Mondex keyring inside the house this morning.''

NatWest director: "Never mind. But I'll have to charge interest. So that's pounds 10, less interest at 14 points over Libor, less a Mondex intra- wallet transaction charge. Mmmm...I make that pounds 3.80 in old money."

Landlord: "I'll take that, now off with the pair of you."

Mondexman: "Well, I guess it's back to the station then. The sooner Mondex goes nationwide the better."

Busker: "How many roads must a man walk down?..."

Mondexman: "Hard to say old chap, but he had better have more in his pocket than an electronic wallet.

Beggar: "Can you spare ten electronic units for a cup of tea guv?''

Mondexman: "You've got a Mondex wallet, great, yes I can. The trouble is I'm loaded with 50s at the moment."

Beggar: "I've got change. Put your card in my wallet and I'll put mine in yours."

Friend: "Watch him, you might get electronically mugged."

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