Barclaycard PayBand at Wireless 2012: We test the 'cashless festival' concept
The festival hardcore will know only too well the frustration of losing a fiver in the mud or accidentally leaving a bulging wallet in a stinky festival cubicle.
Barclaycard hopes to put an end to all that. Back in May 2012 it announced its PayBand concept for this year's Wireless Festival. The idea is simple: sign up for a free wristband, load it with "virtual" cash and then wear it around the festival site all weekend long.
No need to take extra cash nor a card as the associated website even facilitates an optional auto top-up feature available should your balance dip too low (limited to £250 a day maximum).
It's much the same concept as the phone-based Barclaycard PayTag (also supported at this year's festival), except the PayBand system is exclusively set up for the Wireless and at the festival's end any remaining money is automatically processed back into your nominated bank account.
We headed out to Wireless Festival in London's Hyde Park, PayBand strapped to wrist, wellies regrettably left at home, to see what we made of the service.
The band is a flexible rubber-like material that can be pulled over the wrist with ease. It fits on tight enough as to not slip off, but not so tight that it's uncomfortable. Anyone familiar with the variety of paper and material wristbands at modern day festivals won't find it a bother; it's just another band to add to your arsenal.
Making a payment is easy: simply swipe or press the band's bulkiest part to the usual card payment system as provided by stall-holder staff. And that's it. Done.
We didn't suffer any delays in making our payments, no PIN is required and it's definitely faff-free and easy to do.
Wireless is also the first festival at which all stall holders accept the payment type, so there's no limit to your food or drink choices - it's much the same as carrying cash around.
There are some potential small issues though: from the point of view of a stall holder it's easy for a punter to wander off back into a crowd during the brief delay of payment processing, not knoeing that a payment has failed or that insufficient funds were available. There's not the physical tie of cash or card to hold accountable.
From a customer's point of view the top-end limit of £20 per payment might mean a round's out of the question. Perhaps not a problem if you're a bit tight, but otherwise payments will have to be processed in more one sum. A group of five having a pint each can expect to pay £22.50 for the pleasure - too much to pay for in one go.
Cash and PayBand combos can't be accepted. For example the last £2 on your card can't be met with a few quid in cash to meet a price. Though if you're going totally cash free, that won't be a problem.
But those are hardly massive issues and the PayBand system adds plenty of perks: fast-track festival access, exclusive access to the Barclaycard Unwind viewing platform, a free photobooth to have a laugh snapping away with your mates, and we even swiped the band through a device that let us tell the DJ what genre of music to play.
Security is in place too. Should you lose your band or have it swiped from your wrist then head over to a Barclaycard payment point and staff can put a stop to that specific band. As each one is numbered - the chip inside the band has a unique 16-digit number that's assigned to your name at signup - there's little to worry about. And as all Barclaycard products come with fraud protection, you're covered against any unauthorised use too.
If you have no idea how much is left on your band - and after a few sherberts this is quite a liklihood - then there are plenty of balance checkers around the site. In the future, who knows, perhaps there will be visual displays to relay balance information. Though, a bit like Justin Timberlake's 2011 rather pants movie In Time, public display of a big balance might cause unwanted attention.
What's not to like? PayBand is free, it works well, it's secure, and it ought to keep those festival cash disasters at bay. As with any near-field (NFC) payment system, however, it's the lack of any one uniform acceptance going forward that leaves a question mark lingering. This system would be great at future festivals, and beyond, but it requires co-operation between stall holders, festival sites and sponsors.
These first steps are encouraging though and we wouldn't be surprised if watch-makers, phone manufactuers and all manner of other tech companies will get together over time and make contactless payment a truly universal system. Watch this space.
Foolproof or faff? What do you think about Barclaycard's PayBand and did you sign up for one for this year's Wireless Festival?