The End of Retail (Banking)

Mobile Banking Kicks Ass

Tech pundits and futurists have predicted the demise of retail shopping for almost as long as they’ve promised us flying cars; with about as much success, too. After more than two years driving nearly from coast to coast, four wheels firmly on the ground as we rolled past ugly strip mall after ugly strip mall, I’m pretty certain neither of those predictions is anywhere close to fruition.

It’s true that since the heady days of we’ve made grudging progress on the retail front. Amazon is now the 15th largest U.S. retailer with $26B in domestic sales. Buying things online today is as normal for many folks as shopping in traditional stores. But it feels as if our existing technology has mostly reached its saturation point. There are only so many things that we want delivered through the mail.

The internet may have revolutionized browsing and purchasing but it still mostly sucks at the whole getting part of shopping, which is pretty much the entire point. Existing technology can’t fix this problem. Moving forward will likely require another revolution; this time on the delivery side of the equation.

Amazon’s recent investments in same-day delivery offers one possible solution. Advances in three-dimensional printing are far more exciting, though. Instead of ordering things from a remote warehouse and having them shipped, we’ll buy digital blueprints and “print” final products at home. Jay Leno already uses the technology to print hard-to-find parts for his vintage car collection. In time everything from customized clothing to electronics will be available this way, almost immediately and at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, the mainstreaming of 3D printing is probably still decades away (for anyone not named Jay Leno, that is.)

Digital banking, meanwhile, has blazed ahead for the masses. Easily 95% of my economic life is already administered digitally. The ability to do so greatly facilitates our vagabonding lifestyle. I honestly don’t know how we’d travel the way we do without out it.

I have no idea, for example, how Steinbeck bought dog food for Charley several months into their 1960s road trip. I suspect he (Steinbeck, not Charley) set out initially with a giant wad of cash designed to last for the duration of their excursion. How would he cope, though, if his trip were longer? Say, two years and counting. How would he cash his royalty checks while perpetually away from his hometown bank?

That last issue has been a constant thorn in our own sides. Even today some of our clients find it convenient to pay us by check. We’re glad to receive them, but it isn’t always easy for us to find a nearby bank branch to make a deposit. This challenge would only get harder when we extend our travels internationally, where domestic bank brands are even in shorter supply. Fortunately, we no longer need them.

Thanks to new mobile banking apps we can now photograph the paper checks we get and deposit them digitally from wherever in the world we happen to be. No physical bank or ATM required. This, for us anyway, is the last piece of the puzzle. Never again will we search in vain for a bank only to discover the nearest location is 200 miles away. With this advance retail banking has become completely irrelevant to us, and not a moment too soon.

Now all we need are those damn flying cars.

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15 Comments on “The End of Retail (Banking)”

  1. arlene1027 October 17, 2012 at 7:43 am #

    They’re really getting better compared to ten years ago. I seldom go to the bank, I do all my transactions online!


  2. digger666 October 17, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    Retail shopping just wouldn’t be the same without the scratch and sniff option the old fashioned in person in store experience affords. When they’ve licked that one, all those poor workers at WalMart will be out of jobs.


  3. FoundTravel October 17, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    America is already behind in terms of that ‘revolution.’ In the Netherlands, credit cards with magnetic strips are gone… banks have NO tellers (everything is done online or at the machine)… they don’t use ‘antiquated’ methods like checks any more… many stores you can only use your bank pass (also without a credit card magnetic strip)… and more. Sometimes its a hassle.. like finding an ATM machine where you can make a deposit! But often it’s… easy!


    • Nadine Feldman (@Nadine_Feldman) October 17, 2012 at 11:42 am #

      So true. Whenever we travel to Europe, we marvel at the innovation that hasn’t hit our shores yet.


    • Brian October 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

      It’s true. Anyone who has ever left the U.S. knows that we don’t have all the best answers. Unfortunately, so few Americans have ever left their country. 😦


  4. Nadine Feldman (@Nadine_Feldman) October 17, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    I LOVE making deposits via my phone. No more letting little checks stack up because it’s not worth my time to make a trip to the bank.


  5. tiny lessons blog October 17, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    I like the freedoms in terms of time use and mobility these developments are bringing to us. And I agree with FoundTravel that on the banking front US is not yet “there”…more to go!


  6. heavenhappens October 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    I love internet shopping and banking but will be sorry to see individual shops disappear.


    • Brian October 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

      You’re not alone in feeling that way. In fact, I’d wager you’re in the majority. I’m the complete opposite. Not only do I hate shopping, I generally hate buying things (unless those things are food, drink, or experiences). That feeling partly explains why we’re able to do what we do. We tend to value a dollar far more than what that dollar can buy us today – about 25x more to be precise (as exlained more fully in an earlier post How to Revolutionize Your Financial Life.)


  7. Chris October 17, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    I LOATHE the “only digital is the way to go” mindset.I still write checks. I still pay cash. I still read books made out of paper. I have a healthy mustrust of the security of the internet, having had my credit card info stolen on more than one occasion as a result of online transactions. I hate that it’s all so impersonal. Pretty soon we will be isolated, with interaction with real live people a thing of the past. But then, I’m over 65, raised in a different, and better, era where one knew one’s neighbor.


    • Brian October 17, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

      “. . . and, Hey you kids! Get off of my lawn!” Heh-heh-heh-heh

      More seriously, though, it’s fair to say that a sub-theme of this blog is that “change is good.” In fact, it is hard to imagine anyone doing what we’re doing who didn’t believe that to be true. So you can expect a fairly full-throated (but good natured) defense of that idea. I think most of your objections run counter to that line of thinking, so I’d like to address them in turn:

      Security is of course a concern, but not really for credit cards. I’d be willing to wager that if you reported the bad transactions to your card company you never lost a dime. That has not only been our experience, but I know it is also a fairly universal policy among credit card companies to eat fraudulent transaction loses. As long as that stays true, carrying a credit card is less risky than carrying cash, which gets lost and stolen all the time with zero recourse.

      Meanwhile, my cards pay me to use them, to the tune of several hundred dollars per year. I’ve been earning at that rate for at least the past 10 years, putting me several grand to the good (and counting). Add in the countless hours saved as I speed through checkout (slowed only by the person in front of me writing a check ;-)) or by downloading instantly all of my transactions into an insanely detailed budget, and the value I get from my card is far higher than just my cash-back reward total. In any objective contest between paper and plastic, plastic wins hands down.

      That time saved is time that I can use more productively, including for building real relationships. Handing a bank teller a check and deposit slip doesn’t count as fulfilling human contact as far as I’m concerned. Its loss is not something to be missed but celebrated.

      And finally, to believe that there was some better era (presumably in the “Nifty Fifties”) requires pretty thick rose-colored glasses. Thick enough so we don’t see the Jim Crow laws that were enforced through violence and intimidation; other lesser but still significant discrimination against vast segments of the population (Italians, Polish, women, etc); duck-and-cover drills because of the constant and real threat of nuclear holocaust; life expectancies a full decade shorter than today’s; real median family incomes roughly half of those today; commercial air travel completely unavailable until 1958; the list goes on and on.

      Change really is good.


  8. Joni October 24, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    I was born in the 50’s…not that great. I love technology. If I never stepped into another store to buy something I’d be happy. Of course it helps that I’m disabled and have no money to spend (lol) but even before that happened I HATED shopping. I have heard larger cities have online grocery shopping…that’s what i’m waiting for. I hope to be able to sell my house in the next few years and hit the road in an RV. I’ve done the calculations. The way my property taxes and house insurance keep going up and up plus I am unable to do yard work and can’t afford to maintain a house I can use what I used to pay for mortgage to upkeep the Class C (already picked one out). My house sell should allow for me to pay cash for the smallest class c and i am able to do some part time work hopefully at state parks. Love the blog.
    Take care,


    • Brian October 26, 2012 at 9:52 am #

      Hi Joni, thanks for the comments. It certainly is possible to live a life on the road for the same or less as a life at home. Campground fees can be way less than a mortgage or rent (they can be as low as zero, even). Many other expenses can drop. Gasoline spending goes up, but that is mostly controllable – don’t feel like filling the tank, stay where you are for a bit.


  9. Karl Peterson October 30, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    I am a step behind lots of folks when it comes to embracing new technology – usually due to irrational fear, rather than anything logical or real. So hearing about your forays into digital banking excites me tremendously in one sense, and scares me in another. But whatever angst I have about it doesn’t mean I won’t be doing it (as soon as I have the right phone, etc.!). I was one of the last people I know to get a cell phone, but now I am a texting fiend, and looking forward to getting my first iPhone real soon!

    Change freaks me out, but I love it too! I know, it makes no sense, but it’s true…



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