Countries with well established and aging infrastructure are reluctant to change what’s been working for years because the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It’s why Americans and Europeans have wallets filled with plastic cards that have magnetic stripes while nations in Africa are letting people use SMS for everything from buying groceries and paying their bills to booking airline tickets and getting life insurance. First National Bank (FNB) in South Africa has announced yet another neat and interesting innovation for the continent that many incorrectly label as “backwards”. Instead of having a bank card that you slide into a machine and then punch in a PIN code to perform your transaction, you can simply walk up to an ATM, do what you need to do, and then an SMS will be sent to your mobile phone with a temporary PIN code that you then have to enter. That’s it.
Think of all the problems this solves. First, no more losing your bank card or having to get it reissued every two years. Second, no more forgetting your PIN code since you get a new one every time you need to perform a transaction. Third, skimming devices that are hidden inside an ATM so thieves can steal the information that’s on your magnetic stripe are rendered useless since the security elements now lies in the two way authentication system done over SMS. Why isn’t something similar done in the United States or Europe?
While rich countries are busy fumbling around with cramming near field communication into high end smartphones it’s cases like these that demonstrate a lot can be done with the technology we already have. We just need better planning and a system that promotes change rather than turns their cheek when tasked with rolling out something that might actually help people.